Fresh bananas are the most popular
fruit in the world, and their sweet, honey-like flavor and comforting custardy
texture are familiar to all of us.
These tasty and nutritious (they're one
of the best sources of potassium) treats from the tropics are especially
inviting in cold winter months. There are many ways to enjoy them both fresh
and cooked--in appetizers, main dishes, and desserts.
The different varieties of yellow bananas, baby bananas, known as ti figs
in Martinique, red bananas, and plantains now available offer great chances to
try out new cooking ideas, especially since these rich-flavored, sweet fruits
are used widely in many of the world's tastiest cuisines at all stages of
ripeness. Besides ripe bananas' familiar place in fruit salads, smoothies,
pancakes, quick breads, and pies, green bananas and barely ripe ones are
delicious in savory dishes like Caribbean stews and curries, in African or Thai
curries, and in chutneys and salsas.
reliable and easy to harvest, making them the most widely available variety
and, until recently, just about the only one sold in most markets. When ripe,
Cavendish bananas are a rich yellow with little brown spots. They're good for
most recipes, but they don't have the flavor nuances of the more exotic
have reddish-purple skin and slightly pink, creamy flesh. They're often sweeter
than yellow bananas, with a touch of raspberry flavor. When ripe, their skins
should have a purple hue. Choose those that are still slightly firm. Red
bananas are great for eating fresh, for fruit salads, and in pancakes and quick
belong to the same family as bananas but are larger, with more starch and very
little sweetness; in tropical countries, they're cooked like a vegetable. Once
these large, rather tough-skinned bananas are peeled (you'll need to use a
knife), they can be baked, grilled, boiled, sautéed, mashed like
potatoes, or fried into delicious chips. Plantains have a mild flavor and are
used in curries, stews, and chutneys at every stage of ripeness.
or have a firm texture. They're delicious
for eating fresh or tossing in fruit salads. To best enjoy their luscious
flavor, be sure they're fully ripe before eating: look for a deep yellow,
Bananas don't really grow on trees.
they grow on stalks formed by sheaths of thick big leaves; the fruits are
actually the plant's berries. Botanically, bananas belong to a larger family of
plants that includes lilies, ginger, orchids, and palms.
Bananas are grown
commercially in the tropics and subtropics of Central and South America for
export to the United States. Fruit from the Caribbean and Africa supply most of
are picked while still very green.
in refrigerated cargo holds, where they're ripened in special facilities with
gradually warming temperatures and harmless ethylene gas until they're ready to
be shipped to markets. In this nearly ripe commercial stage, a yellow color
begins to show through the bright green.
A banana keeps ripening on the
When shopping for bananas, look for those
with no cracks or bruises. Buy bananas tinged with green if you don't plan to
eat them right away: they ripen naturally off the plant. Keep them at room
temperature; they ripen best that way. (Some people insist on hanging them on a
hook to ripen, but I've never felt the need, although this works to hasten even
ripening.) Generally, a yellow banana that's ripe enough to eat should be fully
and completely yellow with a few black spots freckling its skin. It should give
slightly to the touch, peel easily, and have a fruity, fragrant smell.
Whether you like bananas slightly underripe and firm, as opposed to softer,
sweeter, and riper, is a matter of preference. Very ripe, blackened bananas can
be good for cakes and breads, but avoid overripe ones with a fermented odor.