Bananas grow in clusters on banana trees, and grow best in tropical climates, where it’s hot and humid. Bananas are grown in more than 150 countries, but most bananas are grown in Asia, including in India, China, and the Philippines, and Central and South American countries such as Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia. The banana plant is sometimes grown to provide shade for other crops, or as ornamental decoration.
Bananas are a great source of several important vitamins and nutrients, including potassium, which supports cardiovascular health and helps the body flush out excess sodium. They also contain Vitamins B6 and C, Magnesium, and Fiber. Besides the many ways to eat bananas, their peels also have some interesting uses—so don’t toss them out right away! When rubbed on a scrape or mosquito bite, the inside of banana peels can help soothe the skin. Create homemade plant fertilizer by soaking banana peels for several days in water, and then pouring the water on your plants. And, you can even rub the inside of a banana peel on a scratched DVD or CD to stop it from skipping!
Today, the Cavendish banana is the most exported variety and is of huge economic importance to many countries—but other varieties often play a larger role in countries’ food cultures. Plantains are one variety Americans may be familiar with—the firmer, starchier banana can be used for different dishes depending on their ripeness. Plantains are primarily used for cooking a wide variety of dishes, rather than eaten raw or used for desserts. They are eaten in most South American countries, and are especially important in Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean cuisines. Plantains are also widely grown and consumed in several African countries, including Ghana, Cameroon, Uganda, and Rwanda.
Other regions consume different varieties of the banana plant. In Indonesia, the Pisang Raja, a custardy-tasting banana, is very popular. Red bananas can sometimes be found here in the US—they are grown in South America, Africa, and the Middle East, but are most popular in Central American countries. Blue Java, or ‘Ice Cream’ bananas, are grown in Southeast Asia and South America, and are known for their blue skin, creamy texture, and vanilla flavor. The Burro banana is primarily grown in Mexico and has a lemony flavor when ripe.
A great way to use up bananas that may be past their prime is to bake banana bread. This delicious dessert is easy to whip up with pantry staples and some overripe bananas.
Yield: Makes one 9-inch loaf
•1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
•1 teaspoon baking soda
•1 teaspoon baking powder
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
•3/4 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
•1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
•1 cup sugar
•2 large eggs
•1 cup mashed ripe bananas
•2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
•1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 9x5x2 1/2-inch metal loaf pan. Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Combine chocolate chips and walnuts in small bowl; add 1 tablespoon flour mixture and toss to coat.
2. Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in mashed bananas, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Beat in flour mixture. Spoon 1/3 of batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of nut mixture. Spoon 1/3 of batter over. Sprinkle with remaining nut mixture. Cover with remaining batter. Run knife through batter in zigzag pattern.
3. Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool.