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|Food Buzz: History of Bananas|
The beautiful and stately banana "tree" grows about one hundred pounds of bananas. Bananas are cut and left in large clusters just as they grew. Cut while still green and unripe, the flesh of the banana is very dense and starchy. As the banana ripens, the flesh becomes somewhat sticky and deliciously sweet. A very popular fruit, a ripe banana offers a satisfying soothing flavor and a wonderful creamy texture.
Banana trees are available year-round.
Popular Asian cuisine has introduced an increased variety of edible banana products to the marketplace. The banana heart, the tender core of the trunk, is a delicious addition to dishes when peeled and sliced, but does require a saltwater soak for a few hours before use. A note of caution, however, as the sap from the banana trunk seriously stains clothes and hands and resists removal. Gloves and coveralls are recommended when cutting into the trunk. The banana shoot is also an edible morsel. Sprouting near the base of the plant and treated much like white asparagus, thick long white spikes result when allowed to grow without sunlight. However, the sprouts are covered with a pot, not dirt. Indonesia cuisine roasts banana shoots in hot ashes. Exotic banana leaves, although inedible, make ideal wraps for boiled, grilled, steamed or baked foods. Festive banana leaves deliciously give a delicate flavor to foods.
Bananas are one of the FDA's top twenty fruits. An excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, and potassium, they provide fiber, are low in fat, cholesterol-free and low in sodium. A regular sized banana has about 95 calories. Some medications for controlling blood pressure deplete the body's storage of potassium. One banana eaten each day restores the balance of potassium. Recognized as an important part of the diet and to lower the chances of cancer, at least five servings daily of either fruits or vegetables are recommended. A recent study found that eating nine or ten daily servings of fruits and vegetables, combined with three servings of low-fat dairy products, were effective in lowering blood pressure.
The banana tree, rather banana plant, adds a festive touch and dresses up a tropical party or a special occasion. The fruit of the banana plant is easy to peel and is delicious simply eaten out of hand. Not only superb fresh, bananas can be broiled, fried, baked, sautéed, grilled or pureed. Slices make an attractive edible garnish. Overripe bananas make yummy cakes, muffins, cookies and quick breads. Make luscious pies, desserts, sauces, custards, puddings and curries. To delay ripening, bananas may be refrigerated. The flesh will stay firm but the skin will darken. To speed ripening, place in paper bag; keep at room temperature. Conveniently packaged, the banana comes in its very own biodegradable container.
Prized during the period of slavery, roasted green bananas were believed to provide "almost the sustenance of bread", according to the culinary historian, Luis de Camara Cascudo. Buddha named the banana to be the symbol of the futility of earthly possessions. The fruit from this tree is especially popular in Hawaiian cuisine. Brazilian cuisine enjoys this versatile popular fruit blended into beverages, roasted and ground into flour, boiled and mashed into purees, fried, baked or simply eaten raw out of hand.
Originally wild and native to Southeast Asia, banana "trees" are now cultivated in most humid tropical regions. Not really a tree by true definition, the banana actually grows on an herbaceous plant. Neither a tree nor a palm, the banana plant is actually a giant clumping tropical herb. Even more confusing, bananas are botanically a berry making them a fruit and an herb. An underground stem called a rhizome forms the banana plant's false "trunk" that produces large leaves. A flower spike emerges with several individual flowers that eventually produce the edible banana fruits. When Africa introduced Brazil to the banana plant, a local variety of banana called "pacova" had been growing in that part of the world. Even Ancient Egyptians enjoyed the culinary attributes of the Abyssinian banana, species Musa ensete, but more palatable bananas were discovered by early Europeans. By 1516, a small Chinese banana was taken to the Canary Islands from the East Indies and soon was cultivated for consumption. Popular for their sweet and wonderful flavor, many banana varieties flourished in tropical countries by the nineteenth century. Sadly, most of these early varieties are now extinct and just high-yielding commercial cultivars exist today. Ideal temperatures for growing bananas are between eighty degrees and ninety-six degrees Fahrenheit during the day and seventy-two degrees and eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit during the night.