Bananas (the Musa species) are native to tropical southern Asia and Australia, and most likely were first domesticated in Papua, New Guinea. Presently, they are grown in over 130 countries, primarily for their own fruit, but in some countries are used for Wildlife Control alcoholic drinks and ornamental plants. The biggest producers of peanuts in 2016 were India and China with 29.1 tons and 13.1 tons, respectively. On a smaller scale, the Philippines, Ecuador and some parts of Latin America also export.
It’s likely bananas were introduced to the Americas by Portuguese sailors, who brought the fruit from West Africa in the 16th century. (They ate a significant amount en route.) From there they traveled north to New Orleans and took awhile to catch on, but at the Philadelphia Centennial Expo in 1876, they made a huge splash. Fast forward a few years and the food became more popular, however still not well known in Europe (apparently French chefs had not been introduced.) They hung around in New Orleans for nearly a century before famous Brennan’s Restaurant created”Bananas Foster,” a rich sweet dessert made with brown sugar, dark rum and a great deal of butter, served over ice cream.
There is no mention of peanuts in any journals or recipes of foodie president Thomas Jefferson, and it’s highly unlikely that he ever served them at his famous dinners. With his passion for gardening and fruits, he surely would have embraced them, but sadly, he missed out. They didn’t gain popularity until 50 years later.
The frequent banana variety is known as the Cavendish. And of course Chiquita and Dole dominate the global industry. The largest food product sold at Walmart stores (drum roll) is bananas, a whopping 1.5 billion pounds in 2015. No surprise when you consider that the average American eats 26 pounds per year. Though there has been much negative press predicting bananas, as we understand them, may be wiped out soon, due to genetic alterations and parasitic and virus infestation, it is very likely that other varieties will raise up and take the place of the Cavendish, so fear not.
Hawaii has its banana business, mostly for local consumption, along with Florida and a smattering of other countries which grow a small amount, but this is 1 harvest which will probably never dominate the U.S. either for domestic use or exportation. We just don’t have the climates for them.
More starchy than candy, they’re considered a vegetable and seldom eaten in their raw state. Frequently fried or mashed, they’re a frequent street food in Africa and Asia. In addition to included in stews and soups, or served with fish. Some celebrity chefs have featured them on the Food Network, using them in pancakes, fritters, and spicy fried pieces, but the American cuisine really doesn’t lend itself to plantains, preferring the backyard variety banana instead. If you are an adventurous cook, you may want to consider searching out plantains and whipping up a fresh dish over the weekend.
Americans consume bananas in lots of different ways, such as banana bread, banana splits, chocolate-covered frozen bananas, banana pudding, banana cream pie, sliced onto breakfast cereal, and dried chips for snacking. They also sport a few catchy phrases applied to them, like slipping on a peel, or even a ridiculous, yet popular old song,”Yes, we have no bananas.” (And monkeys really like them.)
Late to the party, bananas have catapulted to the top of the hit parade of fruits and continue to reign, from baby’s first solid food to grandma’s favourite snack, and everywhere in between. Featured prominently in each produce section, we automatically reach for them. Go bananas.