AskDefine | Define bananas

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Pronunciation

  • (US) /bəˈnænəz/

Noun

bananas
  1. Plural of banana

Adjective

bananas

Extensive Definition

Banana is the common name for a fruit and also the herbaceous plants of the genus Musa which produce the commonly eaten fruit. They are native to the tropical region of Southeast Asia and Australia. Today, they are cultivated throughout the tropics.
Banana plants are of the family Musaceae. They are cultivated primarily for their fruit, and to a lesser extent for the production of fibre and as ornamental plants. As the bananas are mainly tall, upright, and fairly sturdy, they are often mistaken for trees, when the truth is the main or upright stem is called a pseudostem, literally meaning "fake stem", which for some species can obtain a height of up to 2–8 m, with leaves of up to 3.5 m in length. Each pseudostem can produce a bunch of yellow, green, or even red bananas before dying and being replaced by another pseudostem.
The banana fruit grow in hanging clusters, with up to 20 fruit to a tier (called a hand), and 3-20 tiers to a bunch. The total of the hanging clusters is known as a bunch, or commercially as a "banana stem", and can weigh from 30–50 kg. The fruit averages 125 g, of which approximately 75% is water and 25% dry matter content. Each individual fruit (known as a banana or 'finger') has a protective outer layer (a peel or skin) with a fleshy edible inner portion. Both skin and inner part can be eaten raw or cooked. Western cultures generally eat the inside raw and throw away the skin while some Asian cultures generally eat both the skin and inside cooked. Typically, the fruit has numerous strings (called 'phloem bundles') which run between the skin and inner part. Bananas are a valuable source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, and potassium.
Bananas are grown in at least 107 countries. The banana plant is the largest of all herbaceous plants. A single, sterile, male banana flower, also known as the banana heart is normally produced by each stem (though on rare occasions more can be produced - a single plant in the Philippines has five). Banana hearts are used as a vegetable in Southeast Asia, steamed, in salads or eaten raw. The female flowers are produced further up the stem and produce the actual fruit without requiring fertilization.

Properties

Bananas come in a variety of sizes and colors when ripe, including yellow, purple and red. Bananas can be eaten raw though some varieties are generally cooked first. Depending upon cultivar and ripeness, the flesh can vary in taste from starchy to sweet, and texture from firm to mushy. Unripe or green bananas and plantains are used for cooking various dishes such as banana pudding and are the staple starch of many tropical populations. Banana sap is extremely sticky and can be used as a practical adhesive. Sap can be obtained from the pseudostem, from the fruit peelings, or from the fruit flesh.
Most production for local sale is of green cooking bananas and plantains, as ripe dessert bananas are easily damaged while being transported to market. Even when transported only within their country of origin, ripe bananas suffer a high rate of damage and loss.
The commercial dessert cultivars most commonly eaten in temperate countries (species Musa acuminata or the hybrid Musa × paradisiaca, a cultigen) are imported in large quantities from the tropics. They are popular in part because, being a non-seasonal crop, they are available fresh year-round. In global commerce, by far the most important of these banana cultivars is 'Cavendish', which accounts for the vast bulk of bananas exported from the tropics. The Cavendish gained popularity in the 1950s after the previously mass produced cultivar, Gros Michel, became commercially unviable due to Panama disease, a fungus which attacks the roots of the banana plant.
The most important properties making 'Cavendish' the main export banana are related to transport and shelf life rather than taste; major commercial cultivars rarely have a superior flavour compared to the less widespread cultivars. Export bananas are picked green, and then usually ripened in ripening rooms when they arrive in their country of destination. These are special rooms made air-tight and filled with ethylene gas to induce ripening. Bananas can be ordered by the retailer "ungassed", however, and may show up at the supermarket still fully green. While these bananas will ripen more slowly, the flavour will be notably richer, and the banana peel can be allowed to reach a yellow/brown speckled phase, and yet retain a firm flesh inside. Thus, shelf life is somewhat extended. The flavour and texture of bananas are affected by the temperature at which they ripen. Bananas are refrigerated to between 13.5 and 15 °C (57 and 59 °F) during transportation. At lower temperatures, the ripening of bananas permanently stalls, and the bananas will eventually turn grey.
It should be noted that Musa × paradisiaca is also the generic name for the common plantain, a coarser and starchier variant not to be confused with Musa acuminata or the Cavendish variety.
In addition to the fruit, the flower of the banana plant (also known as banana blossom or banana heart) is used in Southeast Asian, Bengali and Kerala (India) cuisine, either served raw with dips or cooked in soups and curries. The tender core of the banana plant's trunk is also used, notably in the Burmese dish mohinga, Bengali and Kerala cooking. Bananas fried with batter is a popular dessert in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Banana fritters can be served with ice-cream as well. Bananas are also eaten deep fried, baked in their skin in a split bamboo, or steamed in glutinous rice wrapped in a banana leaf in Myanmar where bunches of green bananas surrounding a green coconut in a tray is an important part of traditional offerings to the Buddha and the Nats. The juice extract prepared from the tender core is used to treat kidney stones.
The leaves of the banana are large, flexible, and waterproof; they are used in many ways, including as umbrellas and to wrap food for cooking, carrying and packing cooked foods, and they are used to build houses in third world countries.. In south India, food is traditionally served on banana leaves in homes and some restaurants also follow the practice. Some farmers prefer to grow banana plants only for their leaves. Chinese zongzi (bamboo leaves are more commonly used where available) and Central American tamales are sometimes steamed in banana leaves, and the Hawaiian imu is often lined with them. Puerto Rican "pasteles" are boiled wrapped and tied inside the leaf.
Banana chips are a snack (and a healthy alternative to potato chips) produced from dehydrated or fried banana or, preferably, plantain slices, which have a dark brown colour and an intense banana taste. Bananas have also been used in the making of jam. Unlike other fruits, it is difficult to extract juice from bananas because when compressed a banana simply turns to pulp.
Seeded bananas (Musa balbisiana), considered to be one of the forerunners of the common domesticated banana, are sold in markets in Indonesia.
It is reported that in Orissa, India, juice is extracted from the corm and used as a home remedy for the treatment of jaundice. In other places honey is mixed with mashed banana fruit and used for the same purpose.

Trade

Bananas and plantains constitute a major staple food crop for millions of people in developing countries. In most tropical countries, green (unripe) bananas used for cooking represent the main cultivars. Cooking bananas are very similar to potatoes in how they are used. Both can be fried, boiled, baked or chipped and have similar taste and texture when served. One green cooking banana has about the same calorie content as one potato.
In 2003, India led the world in banana production, representing approximately 23% of the worldwide crop, most of which was for domestic consumption. The four leading banana exporting countries were Ecuador, Costa Rica, Philippines, and Colombia, which together accounted for about two-thirds of the world's exports, each exporting more than 1 million tons. Ecuador alone provided more than 30% of global banana exports, according to FAO statistics.
The vast majority of producers are small-scale farmers growing the crop either for home consumption or for local markets. Because bananas and plantains will produce fruit year-round, they provide an extremely valuable source of food during the hunger season (that period of time when all the food from the previous harvest has been consumed, and the next harvest is still some time away). It is for these reasons that bananas and plantains are of major importance to food security. Bananas are among the most widely consumed foods in the world. Most banana farmers receive a low unit price for their produce as supermarkets buy enormous quantities and receive a discount for that business. Competition amongst supermarkets has led to reduced margins in recent years which in turn has led to lower prices for growers. Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole and Fyffes grow their own bananas in Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. Banana plantations are capital intensive and demand high expertise, so the majority of independent growers are large and wealthy landowners of these countries. This has led to bananas being available as a "fair trade" item in some countries.
The banana has an extensive trade history beginning with the founding of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) at the end of the nineteenth century. For much of the 20th century, bananas and coffee dominated the export economies of Central America. In the 1930s, bananas and coffee made up as much as 75% of the region's exports. As late as 1960, the two crops accounted for 67% of the exports from the region. Though the two were grown in similar regions, they tended not to be distributed together. The United Fruit Company based its business almost entirely on the banana trade, as the coffee trade proved too difficult for it to control. The term "banana republic" has been broadly applied to most countries in Central America, but from a strict economic perspective only Costa Rica, Honduras, and Panama were actual "banana republics", countries with economies dominated by the banana trade. The countries of the European Union have traditionally imported many of their bananas from the former European island colonies of the Caribbean, paying guaranteed prices above global market rates. As of 2005, these arrangements were in the process of being withdrawn under pressure from other major trading powers, principally the United States. The withdrawal of these indirect subsidies to Caribbean producers is expected to favour the banana producers of Central America, in which American companies have an economic interest.
The United States has minimal banana production. 14,000 tons of bananas were grown in Hawaii in 2001. Bananas have also been grown in Florida.

History

Early cultivation

The domestication of bananas took place in southeastern Asia. Many species of wild bananas still occur in New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Recent archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence at Kuk Swamp in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea suggests that banana cultivation there goes back to at least 5000 BCE, and possibly to 8000 BCE. This would make the New Guinean highlands the place where bananas were first domesticated. It is likely that other species of wild bananas were later also domesticated elsewhere in southeastern Asia.

Textiles

The banana plant has long been a source of fibre for high quality textiles. In Japan, the cultivation of banana for clothing and household use dates back to at least the 13th century. In the Japanese system, leaves and shoots are cut from the plant periodically to ensure softness. The harvested shoots must first be boiled in lye to prepare the fibres for the making of the yarn. These banana shoots produce fibres of varying degrees of softness, yielding yarns and textiles with differing qualities for specific uses. For example, the outermost fibres of the shoots are the coarsest, and are suitable for tablecloths, whereas the softest innermost fibres are desirable for kimono and kamishimo. This traditional Japanese banana cloth making process requires many steps, all performed by hand.
In another system employed in Nepal, the trunk of the banana plant is harvested instead, small pieces of which are subjected to a softening process, mechanical extraction of the fibres, bleaching, and drying. After that, the fibres are sent to the Kathmandu valley for the making of high end rugs with a textural quality similar to silk. These banana fibre rugs are woven by the traditional Nepalese hand-knotted methods, and are sold RugMark certified.

Paper

Banana fibre is also used in the production of banana paper. Banana paper is used in two different senses: to refer to a paper made from the bark of the banana plant, mainly used for artistic purposes, or paper made from banana fiber, obtained from an industrialized process, from the stem and the non utilizable fruits. This paper can be either hand-made or made by industrialized machine.

Storage and transport

In the current world marketing system, bananas are grown in the tropics where hurricanes are not common. The fruit therefore has to be transported over long distances and storage is necessary. To gain maximum life bunches are harvested before the fruit is fully mature. The fruit is carefully handled, transported quickly to the seaboard, cooled and shipped under sophisticated refrigeration. The basis of this procedure is to prevent the bananas producing ethylene which is the natural ripening agent of the fruit. This sophisticated technology allows storage and transport for 3-4 weeks at 13 degrees Celsius. On arrival at the destination the bananas are held at about 17 degrees Celsius and treated with a low concentration of ethylene. After a few days the fruit has begun to ripen and it is distributed for retail sale. It is important to note that unripe bananas can not be held in the home refrigerator as they suffer from the cold. After ripening some bananas can be held for a few days in the home refrigerator. They can be stored indefinitely frozen, then eaten like a Popsicle or cooked or as a banana mush.
Australian researchers have clearly shown that the use of refrigeration is no longer essential to extend the life of bananas after harvest.
The above references report that the presence of carbon dioxide (which is produced by the fruit) extends the life and the addition of an ethylene absorbent further extends the life even at high temperatures. This simple technology involves packing the fruit in a polyethylene bag and including an ethylene absorbent, potassium permanganate, on an inert carrier. The bag is then sealed with a band or string. This low cost treatment more than doubles the life at a range of temperatures and can give a life of up to 3-4 weeks without the need of refrigeration. The method is suitable for bunches, hands and even fingers.
The technology has been successfully tested over long distances and has been confirmed by researchers in a number of countries. The longest commercial trial was from North Queensland to New Zealand by unrefrigerated rail and ship over 18 days. Importers thought that the treated bananas were harvested on the day of arrival!
Although the technology has been extensively published in recognized scientific journals and has considerable cost savings (including energy savings) it has not been widely adopted. This report is to encourage banana growers in even poor countries to try out the technology themselves. It is suggested that a freshly harvested bunch be taken and a few hands be selected and each cut in two. Half of each hand should be sealed in a polyethylene bag the other half hands should be left untreated. Even without the ethylene absorbent the beneficial effect should be obvious in a few days. Growers can then decide whether to try the full technology.

Usage in culture

Peels

The depiction of a person slipping on a banana peel has been a staple of physical comedy for generations. A 1906 comedy record produced by Edison Records features a popular character of the time, "Cal Stewart", claiming to describe his own such incident, saying:
I don't think much of a man what throws a bananer peelin' on the sidewalk, and I don't think much of a bananer what throws a man on the sidewalk, neither. ... my foot hit that bananer peelin' and I went up in the air, and come down ker-plunk, and fer about a minnit I seen all the stars what 'stronomy tells about, and some that hain't been discovered yit. Wall jist as I was pickin' myself up, a little boy come runnin' cross the street and he said, "Oh mister, won't you please do that agin? My mother didn't see you do it."

Stereotypes

  • Because of the stereotypical image of monkeys and apes eating bananas, they have been used for racist insults, such as throwing bananas at sports players of African descent.

Arts

  • The poet Bashō is named after the Japanese word for a banana plant. The "bashō" planted in his garden by a grateful student became a source of inspiration to his poetry, as well as a symbol of his life and home.
  • The song Yes, We Have No Bananas was written by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn and originally released in 1923. Since then the song has been re-recorded several times and has been particularly popular during banana shortages.

Symbols

Bananas are also humorously used as a phallic symbol due to similarities in size and shape. This is typified by the artwork of the debut album of The Velvet Underground, which features a banana on the front cover, yet on the original LP version, the design allowed the listener to 'peel' this banana to find a pink, phallic structure on the inside.

Gallery

Footnotes

References

  • Banana overview - Banana details by IITA
  • FAO. Bananas Commodity notes: Final results of the 2003 season, 2004
  • Denham, T., Haberle, S. G., Lentfer, C., Fullagar, R., Field, J., Porch, N., Therin, M., Winsborough B., and Golson, J. Multi-disciplinary Evidence for the Origins of Agriculture from 6950-6440 Cal BP at Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of New Guinea. Science, June 2003 issue.
  • Skidmore, T., Smith, P. - Modern Latin America (5th edition), (2001) New York: Oxford University Press)
  • Brief mention of banana fibre rugs
  • Banana etymology, banana flour
  • Watson, Andrew. Agricultural innovation in the early Islamic world, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

External links

bananas in Arabic: موز
bananas in Asturian: Plátanu
bananas in Aymara: Puquta
bananas in Bengali: কলা (ফল)
bananas in Min Nan: Kin-chio
bananas in Bosnian: Banana
bananas in Bulgarian: Банан
bananas in Catalan: Banana
bananas in Czech: Banán
bananas in Welsh: Banana
bananas in Danish: Banan
bananas in German: Bananen
bananas in Modern Greek (1453-): Μπανάνα
bananas in Spanish: Musa × paradisiaca
bananas in Esperanto: Banano
bananas in Persian: موز
bananas in French: Banane
bananas in Scottish Gaelic: Banana
bananas in Galician: Banana
bananas in Gan Chinese: 香蕉
bananas in Korean: 바나나
bananas in Croatian: Banana
bananas in Ido: Banano
bananas in Indonesian: Pisang
bananas in Icelandic: Banani
bananas in Italian: Banana
bananas in Hebrew: בננה
bananas in Javanese: Gedhang
bananas in Pampanga: Sagin
bananas in Georgian: ბანანი
bananas in Kinyarwanda: Umuneke
bananas in Swahili (macrolanguage): Ndizi
bananas in Haitian: Bannann
bananas in Latin: Banana
bananas in Lithuanian: Bananas
bananas in Hungarian: Banán
bananas in Malagasy: Akondro
bananas in Malayalam: വാഴ
bananas in Malay (macrolanguage): Pokok Pisang
bananas in Dutch: Banaan (fruit)
bananas in Cree: Min kauakashkuat
bananas in Japanese: バナナ
bananas in Norwegian: Bananer
bananas in Norwegian Nynorsk: Banan
bananas in Polish: Banan
bananas in Portuguese: Banana
bananas in Romanian: Banană
bananas in Quechua: Puquchi
bananas in Russian: Банан
bananas in Simple English: Banana
bananas in Slovak: Banán
bananas in Slovenian: Bananovec
bananas in Serbian: Банана
bananas in Sundanese: Cau
bananas in Finnish: Ruokabanaani
bananas in Swedish: Banan
bananas in Tagalog: Saging
bananas in Tamil: வாழை
bananas in Telugu: అరటి
bananas in Thai: กล้วย
bananas in Vietnamese: Chuối
bananas in Tonga (Tonga Islands): Fusi
bananas in Turkish: Muz
bananas in Ukrainian: Банан
bananas in Yiddish: באנאן
bananas in Contenese: 蕉
bananas in Samogitian: Banans
bananas in Chinese: 香蕉

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

balmy, barmy, bats, batty, beany, bonkers, buggy, bughouse, bugs, crackers, cuckoo, daffy, dippy, dotty, flaky, flipped, freaked-out, fruitcakey, fruity, gaga, goofy, haywire, just plain nuts, kooky, loony, loopy, nuts, nutty, off the hinges, off the track, off the wall, potty, round the bend, screwball, screwballs, screwy, slaphappy, wacky
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