BANANAS

29 November 2011

Evolution has had many benefits for humankind. We have developed science, engineering, medicine and the arts. We have formed societies and developed culture. Yet at the point in our history when we parted company with our primate brethren, we somehow forgot one very important skill.

How to peel a banana.

Ask any self-respecting chimp and they tell you that a banana should be peeled from the bottom, not the top. You see, peeling from the top bruises the fruit, unless the banana is overripe. But every ape and monkey knows that overripe bananas contain reduced nutritional benefit.

Oh, and then there’s those fine fibrous strings you find down the side of every banana. You probably won’t believe me until you’ve tried it yourself, but I assure you it is true. Peeling a banana from the bottom rather than the top removes the strings as you peel.

In horticultural terms, bananas are a monocot plant which essentially means they are a kind of grass. What you and I take to be a tree trunk is in fact the engorged pseudostem of the flower head. It will produce up to two 50kg bunches of bananas, then die and be replaced by another stem next season.

Until the 1960’s our farmers mostly grew a variety called Gros Michel, a sweet, earthy banana with a luscious perfume. Unfortunately it was susceptible to a particular fungal disease that plagued the tropical growing fields and so it was eventually replace by a new species, the Cavendish. Now I don’t want to speak badly about the common banana, but if you yearn for the flavour of the bananas of old, you’re not alone. The Cavendish is slightly chalky with a soft flavour that needs to be almost over-ripe before achieving its full aroma. You’ll still find some Gros Michel bananas grown around the place, but you have to ask by name. Otherwise choose sugar bananas or Lady’s Fingers, both of which are excellent eating fruit.

But bananas are not only about the fruit. You’ll have heard about the uses of banana leaves for wrapping and containing foods, particularly in the Asia kitchen. But what about the sap? Banana sap is a powerful organic glue that can readily be used for a variety of purposes. Consider this for a weekend project with the kids: use banana sap to make a papier mache fruit bowl in the shape of a banana. Or is this just too much monkeying around?
Sourdough Pain Perdu sandwich with fudge and caramelised banana

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