It is generally an accepted fact that the banana brought down the Berlin wall (seriously, google it). While some out there would let you believe that the Soviet Union was brought down by the increased defense spending of keeping up with the Cold War and space race – I’d say it was the East’s yearning for Bananas. Products that were easily accessible to the West, were luxury items in the East. In the end, the East block collapsed because the East just could not keep up with the consumer demand for products. The mighty Banana. Sadly, in the West, we now only know one Banana, the Cavendish cultivar, of the many hundreds of Banana types that are available across the globe. As a side note, if you are looking to add a tropical look to your yard, take a look at the Japanese Fiber Banana (Musa basjoo), which is (possibly) hardy down to Zone 5. Strong frost will kill it down to the ground, but it will re-sprout in the spring.
Bananas (the Musa family) were originally from Southeast Asia, although they can now be found throughout the tropics. Bananas are actually not a tree, but technically a herb. In much of the tropics, they are a weed, spreading voraciously through underground rhizomes. I’ve grabbed a selection of various Bananas cultivars at the local Asian store and present them below.
Let’s take a look at the Banana cultivars from the smallest to the largest.
The Baby Banana is the smallest of the bananas. It can also be called Ladyfingers, nino or mini. Kids love them due to their snack-able size. Baby bananas can be very sweet, but need to be brown(ish) to develop that sweet flavor. Interestingly this is true for most of these exotic bananas, they need to be on the overripe side to develop the best flavor profile.
The Thai banana is next in size. Technically this banana is usually fried particularly in its home country, Thailand, where fried banana is a common street food. No worries though, the Thai Banana can be eaten raw perfectly safely and is very sweet and creamy when ripe. Again, the overripe look is better.
Manzano Bananas, also called Apple Bananas, are a desert banana that combines the predominant banana flavor with a hint of apples. Quite interesting. The bananas are very common in Central and South America. Eat when the bananas get brown spots for best ripeness.
The Burro Banana is widespread in Mexico. It can be easily identified by its square shape. When overripe, you will be greeted with tangy and lemony overtones with a very creamy consistency.
Everyone is familiar with the Cavendish Banana. The Cavendish makes up around 95% of all the Bananas in the Western world. Since the 1970s this has been the cultivar of choice due to its resilience, disease resistance and long storage life. The best flavor profile is when the banana is yellow with no brownness to it. This makes the sale of these other banana problematic because Western consumer will generally not buy bananas that are starting to turn brown or have brown spots.
The Plantain is the largest of the Bananas featured here. Plantains are generally cooked. The green ones are starchy and used like potatoes, while the yellow/black ones are fried as a tasty dessert. Can you eat them raw? The ripe ones, absolutely, I do it all the time and really enjoy the taste. Some people complain that they are not sweet enough, but for me, they are plenty sweet.
Any other Bananas I should give a try?
Below a video on my banana trials.