Going Bananas

The banana is an excellent choice for a portable, palatable, nutritious food.

If you've ever watched a distance race, you've seen runners reach for bananas. The starchy carbohydrates in a banana provide quick energy and are a good source of water and an excellent source of potassium—an electrolyte which is necessary for the heart, nervous system and kidneys to function optimally.

Nutritionally, a banana is a powerful package. A medium banana—about seven inches long—contains 105 calories, 27 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 422 mg potassium and 10 mg vitamin C. There's less than half of a gram of fat and only 1 gram of sodium.

For optimum eating, choose a plump, evenly colored yellow banana flecked with tiny brown specks. The specks indicate ripeness, but blemishes indicate bruising.

Easy to eat

Bananas are easy to eat and easy to digest. Mashed banana is one of the first solid foods given to a baby.

Bananas are versatile. Blend with yogurt, berries, and ice for a smoothie, or use in recipes for banana bread or pudding. Substitute a banana for jelly in a peanut butter sandwich—just don't fry it, the way Elvis Presley liked it. If you slice a banana for a fruit salad, add a little lemon juice to ward off discoloration. And if you make a banana split, use scoops of frozen yogurt or sherbet.

Don't be afraid to buy green bananas. The fruit will ripen quickly once you get it home and leave it uncovered at room temperature (about 70 degrees). Growers pick bananas while green and keep them cool while shipping to keep them from ripening.

If you need to ripen a banana more quickly, put it in a brown paper bag. If your bananas are getting ripe faster than you want, refrigerate them. The skin will turn brown, but the fruit will be fine. You can peel and freeze ripe bananas to use later.

Growing bananas

Here are some interesting facts about how bananas are grown:

  • There's no such thing as a banana tree. Bananas grow on plants that are giant herbs and are related to the lily and orchid family. Each plant will produce about 150 bananas ready to harvest about 8 to 10 months from the time the shoots of the bulb begin growing.

  • Banana plants need warm, tropical sun, rich soil, and lots of water. You can't grow a banana plant in your back yard unless you live in a place like Costa Rica or Ecuador.

  • Bananas are believed to be the first fruit farmed by man. Alexander the Great found bananas in India in 327 B.C. Spanish explorers brought bananas to the New World, where Friar Tomas de Berlanga planted the first banana rootstocks in the Caribbean in 1516.

  • Americans were officially introduced to bananas at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Each banana was wrapped in foil and sold for 10 cents.

  • Bananas come in many varieties. The American favorite is the yellow Cavendish. You also can find red bananas and bananas with different flavors. Latin Americans cook the plantain variety and use banana leaves to wrap foods for steaming.

  • Finally, what can do you do with a banana peel? Don't leave it around for a comedian to slip on; dig a hole next to your rose bush and toss it in for fertilizer.