A History of Bananas

Bananas are one of the most popular fruits, perhaps because they are inexpensive and easy to come by. They are a convenient snack to bring with you to work or school and they are perfectly nutritious for people of any age.

Most people don’t enjoy bananas before they become ripe or after their prime. Bananas go through a process starting with being green and moving to yellow and then brown. When stored at room temperature, bananas will go through this process on their own and can be eaten at any point that you prefer during the ripening process.

Bananas are full of fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin C, manganese, biotin and copper. They are even known to fight stress. However, they are high in sugar and carbohydrates, so people who are on a strict diet should limit their banana intake. They are a starchy fruit and become less starchy as they ripen. This starch is digestive-resistant, meaning that it can actually be used to relieve diarrhea. With time, the starch decreases and is converted into sugars.

Bananas and the United Fruit Co.

Founded in 1899, the United Fruit Company profited greatly from bananas by making investments in Guatemala. Beginning in the business of bananas, the UFCO built a business empire that began shipping bananas to the U.S. During this time, the U.S. became gained an interest in the nutritional value of bananas and wanted to incorporate more of them into the American diet, which sparked sales.

UFCO dominated the banana industry and moved on to sell other produce such as tomatoes, pineapples, and cantaloupes, which led to its being known as the “banana republic.” Bananas coming from other countries were often diseased or were infested with insects.

Disease, Monopolies, and Politics and Banana Distribution

In 1903, a widespread disease demolished a lot of the banana supply in Panama, and by 1960, many banana plantations were abandoned. When this happened, the Gros Michel banana variety was essentially wiped out, but Cavendish variety seemed immune. After regaining about 90% of the banana market in 1970, UFCO changed into the current Chiquita Brands International.

When bananas arrive in the city in which they are sold, it is just the beginning of their journey. This is followed by a wide loop of distribution where the bananas are handled by customs officials, blasted with a ripening gas, haggled over in a market, and then taken to a fruit stand to be sold.

Today, small businesses make about a dollar per box of bananas that they sell, even though they supply the bananas for a wide radius of people. But no matter where bananas come from, they have to go through a “radiation portal” when they enter the country because they are “slightly radioactive” because of their potassium content. However, a person would have to eat 274 bananas each day for seven years to be killed by the radiation.

The Most Common Banana

Cavendish is the variety of banana that is seen most often for sale in U.S. grocery stores. They have been on the market since the 1970s and have a mild and mushy taste. Some other varieties of bananas include:

  • Churro
  • Plantain
  • Red Bananas
  • Pisang Raja
  • Manzano
  • Lady Fingers
  • Pisang rastali or kesat
  • Ae Ae
  • Pitogo
  • The Ripening Process

Bananas take weeks to ripen on a tree but continue to ripen once they are cut down. Once they arrive at a store, cardboard boxes of bananas are put in a dark, cool room and stacked to ripen.

They are kept at 56 to 66 degrees F in a room with an ethylene generator, which is a synthetic version of the hormone that naturally ripens bananas. This can either slow down or speed up the ripening process.

Depending on sales, people selling bananas can use digital controls to speed up or slow down the ripening process. The process typically takes four days for in-city delivery to restaurant suppliers, grocery stores, and wholesalers. The ripeness chart runs from one to seven, with green on one end to yellow with brown spots, suggesting that the banana is too ripe.

The nutrition of bananas changes depending on its ripeness. They are the most healthy when they are unripened because this is when they contain the most digestive-resistant starch, which helps improve gut health. Many people do not prefer to eat bananas that are not ripe, but if they are combined with other foods they can become palatable.

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