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Banana, the fruit of a plant of the genus Musa (family Musaceae) is basically cultivated for food, and secondary for the production of fibers, and also for producing tissue-thin tea bags. Besides this, bananas are also cultivated for some ornamental purposes in various regions of the world. They are also known as Bananier Nain, Canbur, Curro and Plantain. These creamy, rich, and sweet fruits are favourite among the people of all ages right from infants to elders. Bananas consist mainly of sugars (glucose, fructose and sucrose) and fiber. They provide instant energy as they are the rich sources of Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and potassium.

Origin of Bananas
Edible bananas find their origin in the Indo-Malaysian region and northern Australia. Many varieties and species of wild bananas still occur in Philippines, Malaysia, New Guinea, and Indonesia. Recent archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence suggests that banana cultivation goes back to at least 5000 BC, and possibly to 8000 BC in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. This would make the New Guinean highlands the first place where bananas were cultivated by human beings. Later these eatables were domesticated in the other parts of southeastern Asia.

History of Bananas in a Nutshell

  • Archaeological evidence suggests that  banana cultivation started during 8000 to 5000 BCE in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea
  • In 600 BCE, the banana is mentioned for the first time in written history in Buddhist texts
  • Alexander the Great discovered the taste of the banana in the valleys of India in 327 BCE
  • If to believe unverified facts, it was in the 3rd Century B.C bananas have been carried to the Mediterranean region, followed by Europe in the 10th Century A.D.
  • Islamic texts suggests that prophet Muhammad was familiar with bananas and there are also numerous references to it in Islamic texts (such as poems and hadiths) beginning in the ninth century
  • The existence of an organized banana plantation could be found in China in 200 AD
  • Antonius Musa, Roman emperor Octavius Augustus's personal doctor, was credited for promoting cultivation of the exotic African fruit from 63 to 14 B.C.
  • In 1502 AD, banana plants were transported from the West African coast to South America by a group of Portuguese mariners
  • In the 17th century, Its Guinean native name,which later became 'banana' in English, was first found in print
  • In 1836 A.D., the yellow sweet banana is a mutant strain of the green and red cooking bananas, discovered in 1836 by Jamaican Jean Francois Poujot
  • With the advent of refrigeration technologies coupled with rapid transport transport systems, bananas have become widely available by the 20th century.

Botanical Description
Banana plants are fast-growing herbaceous perennials that grow at 6 to 7.6 meters (20-25 feet) tall, from a corm. The banana has an underground stem with adventitious roots. Below is the brief botanical description of the banana plant:

  • Plant :
    They are herbaceous plant with an apparent trunk that bends without breaking. The "trunk" or pseudostem is not a true stem, but only the clustered, cylindrical aggregation of leaf stalk bases. This is the  largest of all herbaceous plants having its leaves arranged spirally which can grow 2.7 metres (9 feet) long and 60 cm (2 feet) wide. There are 5-15 leaves on each plant, with 10 considered the minimum for properly maturing a bunch of fruit and approximately 44 leaves will appear before the inflorescence

  • Flowers :
    *The inflorescence shooting out from the heart in the tip of the stem appears above the last leaves in an upright position, and consists only of a large, purple, tapered bud. As the bud opens, the narrow,  nectar-rich, tubular, toothed, white flowers are revealed. They are then clustered in whorled double rows along the stalk, each cluster covered by a thick, purple, bract. The flower stalk begins to droop down under its own weight after opening; the flowers are negatively geotropic, and turn upright during growth

  • Pollination :
    Bananas are male sterile, and those of the Cavendish group are female sterile as well; fruit is set parthenocarpically

  • Fruits :
    The fruit (technically a berry) turns from deep green to yellow or red, and may range from 2-1/2 to 12 inches in length and 3/4 to 2 inches in width. The flesh, ivory-white to yellow or salmon-yellow, may be firm, astringent, even gummy with latex when unripe, turning tender and slippery, or soft and mellow or rather dry and mealy or starchy when ripe.

General Culture
Banana cultivation requires the following culture:

  • Soils and Climate :
    The banana plant can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions, but deep, well-drained alluvial soils are best suited for cultivation. The plant is well adopted to hot, wet, tropical lowlands and requires about 4 inches of rain/month, with dry seasons no longer than 3 months

  • Planting :
    Planting is best done at the end of the dry season and beginning of the wet season for adequate initial moisture and to avoid waterlogging of the young plants

  • Irrigation :
    The giant leaves of bananas use a great deal of water. Regular watering is essential. Standing water, especially in cool weather, will cause root-rot. An occasional deep watering to leach the soil is also helpful

  • Fertilization :
    A mature plant may require as much as 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of the fertilizer each month. Young plants need a quarter to a third as much. The fertilizer should not be allowed to come in contact with the trunk

  • Fruit Harvest :
    Bananas are not allowed to ripen on the plant, even for local consumption, because ripe fruits have poor flavor. Occasionally, a stalk will form in early summer and ripen before cold weather appears. The fruit can be harvested by cutting the stalk when the bananas are plump but green. Once harvested the stalk should be hung in a cool, shady place. Since ethylene helps initiate and stimulate ripening, and mature fruit gives off this gas in small amounts, ripening can be hastened by covering the
    bunch with a plastic bag.

Varieties of Bananas
There are several varieties of edible bananas, classified into several main groups and subgroups. The main species of bananas are  Musa Acuminata Colla, M. X Paradisiaca L. (hybrid); whereas Abyssinian Banana (Ensete Ventricossum Cheesman), Musa Balbisina Colla, M. Ornata Roxb., M. Textilis Nee are its related species.

It is believed that there are almost 1000 varieties of bananas in the world, subdivided in 50 groups. The most commonly known banana is the Cavendish variety, which is the one produced for export markets. The following are the main varieties of bananas:

  • Bluggoe :
    Known with many other local names is a cooking banana especially resistant to Panama disease and Sigatoka. This variety bears a few distinctly separated hands of large, almost straight, starchy fruits, and is of great importance in Burma, Thailand, Southern India, East Africa, the Philippines, Samoa, and Grenada.

  • Ice Cream :
    'Ice Cream' Banana of Hawaii ('Cenizo' of Central America and the West Indies; 'Krie' of the Philippines), is a relative of 'Bluggoe', and is eaten raw or cooked.

  • Mysore :
    It is also known as 'Fillbasket' and 'Poovan', which is the most important banana type in India, constituting 70% of the total crop. This fruit is also widely cultivated in Malayasia, Thailand, Ceylon and Burma.

  • 'Salembale' and 'Rasabale' :
    These are the other two popular varieties of bananas cultivated mainly in southern states of India.

  • 'Silk', 'Silk Fig', or 'Apple' ('Manzana' in Spanish):
    It is one of the most popular dessert bananas of the tropics and subtropics.

  • 'Red' Red Spanish', 'Red Cuban', 'Colorado', or 'Lal Kela' Banana:
    This variety is primarily cultivated in India and subsequently introduced into all banana growing regions.

  • 'Fehi' or 'Fei':
    This Polynesia variety of banana is distinguished by erect bunches and the purplish-red or reddish-yellow sap of the plants which is being used as ink and for dyeing. These plants are often grown as ornamental in Hawaii.
Nutritional Benefits of Bananas
Bananas consist mainly of sugars (glucose, fructose and sucrose) and fiber, which makes them ideal for an immediate and slightly prolonged source of energy. They are also an exceptionally rich source of fructooligosaccharide, a compound that nourishes probiotic (friendly) bacteria in the colon. Besides being a powerhouse of energy, bananas contain many medicinal properties.

Their higher degree of potassium helps in normalizing the hearthbeat and regulate the body's water balance. Bananas are extremely high in potassium (about 4673mg), yet very low in sodium (1mg), thus having a perfect ratio for preventing high blood pressure. Below is the short description of the nutritional value of banana:
Vitamin Content of Banana: Banana is rich in vitamin C and also contains other vitamins such as vitamin A, and Vitamin B, especially folate.

Calorie Content of Banana
Banana contains about 90 to 93 calories per 100 g. This energy is easily absorbed by the body and hence eating 3-4 bananas daily, especially with milk, is often recommended to gain weight. At the same time, banana is useful for loosing weight. Since it has only 90 calories per 100 g (butter has about 700 calories per 100 g), banana reduces your calorie intake and thus helps in weight loss.

Medicinal Uses of Bananas
Because of their impressive potassium content, bananas are highly recommended by doctors. They are helpful in:

  • Reducing depression
  • Anemia
  • Restoring a normal bowel function
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Eyesight protection
  • Strengthening the bones
  • Healthy kidney
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Treating heart-burn
  • Curing a hangover
  • Overcoming nervous disorders
  • Reducing morning sickness
  • Improving nerve function, and many more.

Yummy Banana Recipes
Besides being eaten raw, bananas are also used in preparing variety of recipes from salads to baked goods. Banana shakes are quite popular in almost in every family of the world. Some of the few banana recipes are:

  • Banana Pudding Recipe :
    It is a pretty common dessert in the Southern U.S. prepared by using bananas, vanilla wafers and pudding. This dish  is sometimes served with sprinkled meringue or  whipped cream on top

  • Banana Split Recipe :
    This dish is again from the family of dessert, made with a banana cut lengthwise (hence the name), topped with ice-cream and whipped cream

  • Banana Bread Recipe :
    Banana bread is a type of sweet bread which uses mashed bananas as the main ingredient. It is usually baked in a rectangular pan, and does not use yeast as a leavening agent, but rather baking soda

  • Red Snapper With Pecan-Banana Butter :
    This dish contains Caribbean features banana fritters flavored with rum, a dish that consists of chunks of bananas dipped in flour, then into a rich batter. A popular dish in the Caribbean features banana fritters flavored with rum, a dish that consists of chunks of bananas dipped in flour, then into a rich butter.

Other popular Banana Recipes:

  • Banana Chocolate Chip Cake
  • Bananas con Mousse de Duraznos - Bananas with Peach Mousse
  • Coconut Ice Cream with Brandied Dried Plum and Banana Compote
  • Banana Rum Bread Pudding with Rum Caramel Sauce
  • Banana-Nut Pancakes - dairy free
  • Banana Coconut Cream Pie
  • Low Fat Low Sugar Banana Bread
  • Banana Fritters
  • Low Fat Banana Oatmeal Cookies
  • Banana Nut Coffee Cake
  • Low Fat Banana Bread with sugar-free version
  • Banana Bread Pudding
  • Banana Muffins egg-free dairy-free
  • Banana Blueberry Muffins
  • Banana Oatmeal Cookies
  • Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
  • Cajun Banana Smoothie, and many more.

How to Choose Good Bananas

  • Choose brightly colored bananas that look good and have their characteristic aroma
  • Prefer fruit with really yellow skin and small brown spots, that looks firm and with no dull or gray tones
  • Feel the bananas to make sure they are plump and firm
  • Carefully read the instructions and labels while purchasing packaged fruits from retail stores.

Essential Tips for Banana Exporters
Farmers engaged in the harvesting and export of bananas must keep the following tips in their minds for better output:

  • Irrigation of the plantation should be stopped well in time, preferably a week ahead of the harvest date in order to facilitate efficient movement of labour, harvesting, loading, etc.
  • Erection of temporary shades near banana fields is highly recommended so as to store the goods properly Application of fungicidal paste should be carried out under the shade in order to protect the produce from insects and other infections
  • Bunches selected should be green, three-fourths ripe, whole, free from rubbing, scratching, bruises, sunburns or other blemishes
  • Bunches having malformed fingers, octopus-shaped hands, broken, torn or split fingers, etc. should be rejected
  • The bunch should be cut in one stroke 20 cm to 25 cm above the first band or 7.5 cm to 10 cm from the tip of the fingers of the first hand
  • For carrying bunches to packing shed it is necessary that after 15 minutes of harvest, when the latex flow ceases, the bunches should be taken two at a time on stretchers and should not be allowed to come into contact with soil.