What is a banana?
A perfectly ripened, aromatic banana is one of the easiest snacks for the active person to eat on the go. The sweetness of bananas does not always require the addition of sugar which helps to produce healthy tropical desserts such as sliced ripe bananas, drizzled with passionfruit and orange juice, baked until delicious and then served with a dollop of yoghurt.
Bananas are native to South-East Asia and evidence has been found to suggest that they were cultivated in Papua New Guinea around 5000 BC. Bananas spread to Africa and the Middle East, and Portuguese sailors carried the fruit from West Africa to the Americas in the 16th century.
In Australia, Chinese immigrants who originally worked in the goldfields started planting the fruit for commercial purposes. These bananas were grown from the wild variety that grew in North Queensland during that period. Nowadays, bananas are grown commercially in New South Wales, Queensland, Darwin in the Northern Territory and Carnarvon in Western Australia.
In Australia, bananas are sold by variety. Cavendish is the most common type of banana available. This banana is long and bright yellow. Lady fingers are small, thin-skinned yellow bananas that have a sweeter flavour than conventional bananas.
The Gold finger banana is a new variety that doesn’t go brown when cut. It is small and yellow and has a tart flavour. Another new variety is the Red Ducca, a short, plump banana with red skin and cream- to light-red-coloured flesh. This banana has a mild, raspberry flavour.
Plantains contain more starch than the other types of bananas. They are firm and mild tasting, with a thick green skin. These bananas need to be cooked before eating and are often used in Asian, Latin American and Caribbean cuisines.
Why bananas are good to eat
- Bananas are a good source of vitamins C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body), B6 and folate.
- Bananas also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function) and complex carbohydrates (which are used as energy in the body).
- Bananas contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of banana supplies 380 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Banana plants grow best in warm, coastal climates with plenty of sunshine and water. The main part of the plant is made up of tightly rolled-up leaves that are produced from an underground corm (a fleshy bulb or plant stem). Depending on the variety and climatic conditions, the banana plant can grow to a height of 5 m or more. The leaves that spiral from the corm can grow to nearly 3 m.
Once the plant is fully mature, the corm stops producing new leaves and begins to form a single flower stem. This stem bends under its own weight as bananas develop from the female flowers. The flower that develops at the end of the stem is the sterile male flower or ‘bell’.
Bananas start growing between nine and 12 months after planting in the tropics and after about 18 months in subtropical areas. A single banana is known as a finger and about 15 fingers make up a hand. Several hands (about eight) make up a bunch of bananas.
Bananas are picked when they are mature but still green. Generally, bananas that are sold commercially have been artificially ripened with ethylene gas. After harvesting, the banana plant is cut to the ground and new leaves grow from the suckers produced by the corm.
Choose bananas depending on when you are going to use them. If you are going to use them within a few days, select yellow bananas that are nearly ripe. Otherwise, choose those that are still a little green. Avoid bananas that have split or damaged skin.
How to store and keep bananas
Store bananas at room temperature. You can also keep bananas in the fridge. The skin will turn black in the fridge but you can still eat the banana.
Unripe bananas will ripen if placed in a brown paper bag with an apple (or ripe banana).
How to use
- Try a spicy banana salad – mix sliced banana with salad greens, cucumber, snow pea sprouts and freshly chopped mint, coriander leaves and green chillis, then dress with lime juice, grated ginger, chilli, fish sauce and coconut milk and sprinkle peanuts on top before serving.
- Whip up a banana cake – fold mashed bananas and yoghurt into a cake batter mixture, pour into a cake pan and bake, then top with cream cheese icing and sprinkle with shredded coconut.
- Make banana salsa – combine chopped banana with chopped red chillis, lime juice, mint, coriander leaves and brown sugar, then serve alongside chicken or fish.
- Enjoy banana pancakes for brunch – mash bananas into pancake batter (eggs, flour, sugar, milk and baking powder), cook until golden brown and serve with bacon and a drizzle of maple syrup.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
Content on this website is provided for information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not in any way endorse or support such therapy, service, product or treatment and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. The information and materials contained on this website are not intended to constitute a comprehensive guide concerning all aspects of the therapy, product or treatment described on the website. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions and to ascertain whether the particular therapy, service, product or treatment described on the website is suitable in their circumstances. The State of Victoria and the Department of Health & Human Services shall not bear any liability for reliance by any user on the materials contained on this website.