Bananas – staple fruit of modern times

One of the most prominent and regularly consumed fruit across the world has to be Bananas. Favorite of little kids to adults to elders, well even athletes, body builders and champion sportspersons swear by its health benefits! Bananas are botanically a berry. It is one of the best examples of Human ability to evolve his food to suit his preferences through careful pollination and selective isolation of varieties to suit his tastes and preferences.

Having its origins in India and South East Asia, bananas of today can be traced back to two major species, namely, Musa Acumulata and Musa Balbisiana. While Musa Acumulata is native to South East Asia, Musa Balbisiana has its roots in India. To most of our surprise, the wild varieties of Bananas can still be seen growing in rainforests of India, with big seeds. And these seeds if sown can give rise to Banana plants. One of the most preferred fruits of Monkeys and Elephants, they are normally seen ingesting these fruits and their defecation would serve the purpose of distribution across the forest. Humans of the region figured out that the bananas could also be grown through the banana pups(plants that grow out of rhizomes) under the soil, thereby, systematically eliminating the seeds over time from the bananas, while one can still find tiny black seeds in them that do not mature.

In the modern conventional markets one can find two kinds, Plantain and Banana. Yes, plantains and bananas are not the same. Plantains are mainly used for cooking; they are meaty, have thick peel and are generally used for cooking as they are not as sweet as Bananas. Bananas are eaten raw as they are more “fruit-like”, are sweet and are often described as dessert fruits. While Bananas have their roots in Musa Acumulata, the hybrid between the Musa Balbisiana and Musa Acumulata became Plantain.

Bananas have been cultivated in India and South East Asia since 8000BCE. The Italian traveler, Marco Polo regaled Europeans with tales of indigenous fruits of the Indian subcontinent including the Bananas in 13th century. Naturally, when Portuguese came to India, they took some of these wonder fruits and were instrumental in propagating the Bananas in the Americas and West Africa. Beating the Portuguese to this deed were Arabs, who took Bananas to Arabia and Northern Africa during early Islamic revolution, essentially called “Mauz” in Arabian language, to an extent where even the scientific name of Banana – Musa draws its influence from it.

India happens to be the largest producer of Bananas in the world today, with over 29 million tons of Bananas being produced annually, China being a distant second at 13 million tons. One of the prominent reasons for India championing Banana production happens to be its tropical climate and friendly growing conditions facilitating the production of Bananas round the year. Evidently, Indian Bananas belong to Cavendish type that is predominantly a favorite for dessert dishes. On contrary, Indian local Banana delicacies are some of the widest. Banana for Indians is often dubbed as “Staple Fruit” thanks to their availability round the year. Bananas feature prominently in local cuisines of India wherein there are dishes that require Bananas and its plant parts to prepare them including curries, stir fries, chips, they’re steamed and also double as bajjis (Raw Banana dipped in chick pea batter and deep-fried). In Kerala, raw, unripe bananas are cooked/steamed to be used similar to potatoes – mashed up. The banana tree’s flower, leaves and even trunk is used as vegetables in preparing various dishes.

Some of the favorites of Indian varieties is Poovan, often called Mysore Poovan for its origin in the Mysore region of southern state of Karnataka. Loved for its taste and texture where the outer layer is sweeter and chewier, has a powdery texture to it and as one goes to the center part of the fruit, where tiny black seeds reside it gets mildly tart. Thus very much preferred by the local kids and adults alike and even by women as they make for some of the best dessert preparation. And there are massive, filling Bananas too, called “Nendran”, when eaten could fill a grown man’s tummy, if not, try having another! J

Culturally in India, young banana stalks are used in every social and festive ritual, tied to pillars. The young banana stalks symbolize prosperity in Hindusim. Banana leaves for their obvious property of being light, even and broad, are used to serve festive feast on in south India. Banana leaves are also used for cooking many dishes too where the leaf is heated in open stove to provide elasticity. These leaves are then used to wrap food and to cook. Banana leaves add a distinct flavor to the food cooked in it. Locally, Banana plant present as a great fiber for weaving fabric and for making ropes.

One of the fundamental principles in the indigenous medicinal science of India – Ayurveda is that Food itself is the best medicine there is! Bananas are one of those super foods. As mentioned earlier, Bananas are preferred widely by the sporting community before the event, during the event and even after the event for its abundance in potassium that is instrumental in cellular reconstruction, for its electrolytes to fill one’s blood stream with minerals to cope up quickly with lost minerals during sporting action. Bananas help regulate heart functions, blood pressure and maintain fluid balance in one’s body. Studies have shown that they fight paralysis stroke and heart diseases too.

Next time you find a Banana, make sure you have another. Because why not! They are the staple fruit!


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