Bananas: They’re one of the first foods we eat as babies; they’re a staple in just about every family kitchen; and they’re a great source of potassium and fiber. But how much do we really know about bananas? And can they be more than just a snack food? (Answers: Not much, and yes.).
First things first: Technically, the banana plant is not really a tree – it’s the world’s largest perennial herb – and the banana fruit is, biologically speaking, a berry. Bananas are reportedly the world’s fourth most popular food, after rice, wheat, and corn. Most bananas are grown in tropical regions; India grows the most bananas but Ecuador is the largest exporter of bananas.
To learn more about bananas, we turned to Richard W. VanVranken, an agricultural agent and cooperative extension specialist with Rutgers University in New Jersey. According to VanVranken, “Bananas are ethylene-dependent for ripening. They are shipped to the U.S. green and hard as a rock in cargo containers, likely with controlled atmosphere to scrub out the ethylene and a reduced oxygen content to slow respiration. Once they arrive here, mostly via the Port of Wilmington (in Delaware) which is one of the largest banana ports in the country, they are put into ‘ripening rooms’ where they are exposed to ethylene to restart the ripening process so that they are close to yellow by the time they arrive at the retailer. However, once the ripening is restarted, there is nothing in the rest of the distribution chain that will halt the process again.”
VanVranken adds, “You can ripen them faster by putting them in a bag with an apple, or you can slow down the ripening by separating them and keeping them cool (and away from other fruit). You can extend the shelf life by buying greener fruit to begin with, and you can get a few more days out of them once they reach the ripeness you like by putting them in the fridge. The skin will turn black, but the pulp will stay at the same stage of ripeness for a few days longer than if left on the counter. ”
OK – got all that? If you love bananas, and particularly if you love banana splits, you’re in luck. August 25 is National Banana Split Day. To celebrate, here’s one of our favorite banana splits – a healthy version that’s more like a crisp, juicy salad:
Waldorf Banana Split
2 crisp apples, cored and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup grapes, chopped in half
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 T. honey
4 large leaves green lettuce
Combine apples, celery, walnuts, grapes, and raisins in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl, whisk together Greek yogurt and honey. Add yogurt mixture to apple mixture and stir gently to combine. Meanwhile, peel four bananas and slice each banana in half crosswise and then lengthwise. Prepare four plates by placing a leaf of lettuce on each one. Add a dollop of salad to the middle of each plate and then place bananas around the edge. Top each serving with a spring of mint leaves. Serves four.