The Fruit for All Seasons

By Swarnendu Biswas 

Banana is one of the most common edible fruits found and eaten by all and sundry, and it has amazingly wide applications for the food & beverage industry. However, I wonder whether many among us know much about the myriad health benefits and other facets of this fruit, which in botanical terms is a berry. Bananas grow in clusters on the banana plant. According to Wikipedia, bananas are produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa.

Basics on Banana 

Bananas vary in size and firmness but are mostly elongated and curved in shape. Its outer skin or rind comes in yellow, green, red, and purple colours. Overly ripe bananas can also have brown colour skin. The inside of bananas or the flesh of the bananas is mostly white, and it is rich in starch. Some of the bananas have their inside in cream or pinkish colour too.

There are broadly two kinds of bananas; one is the dessert banana which is sweet to taste and can be eaten raw, and the other is cooking banana or green banana which is used for cooking. The latter are starchier than the dessert bananas. The cooking bananas or green bananas are often loosely referred to as plantain, though not all the cooking bananas are plantains. Plantain is a type of cooking banana. 

Past and the Present

Bananas were first domesticated in south-east Asia and Papua New Guinea. The history of banana cultivation dates back to 8000 BC that is since the dawn of human civilisation. Africa also has a long track of history of the usage of banana as does the Middle-east. Portuguese brought bananas from West Africa during the 16th century, and in turn introduced them to the Americas. During 15th-16th centuries, Portuguese colonisers started banana plantations in Atlantic islands, West Africa and Brazil. 

It is surprising that even as late as the mid- nineteenth century, the usage of bananas in Europe and in the US was not extensive, though the fruit was known in the continent and the US much before then. 

Presently, banana is grown in more than 130 countries of the world. In terms of annual production and consumption, it is the second most popular fruit in the world, after tomatoes. India is the largest producer of bananas, followed by China. The Philippines, Ecuador and Brazil are among the other major producers of banana. 

In India, bananas grow all round the year.  According to World Atlas, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are the states of the country where banana is being grown widely.

Cultivation Requisites 

Banana can be grown in all seasons, which is perhaps one of the major reasons behind its abundance and popularity. The ideal pH for soil for banana cultivation varies between 6.5 -7.5 and deep, rich loamy soil is most suitable for the cultivation of this healthy fruit. 

Soils with adequate drainage, adequate fertility and moisture are suitable for banana cultivation. There are other conditions too. “A soil which is neither too acidic nor too alkaline, rich in organic material with high nitrogen content, has adequate phosphorus level and plenty of potash is good for banana,” observed National Horticulture Board.
Spread Across Dishes... and Glasses    

Banana has a wide variety of culinary applications. Of course, dessert bananas are eaten raw. Bananas are also used in fruit salad and are used in making cakes, pancakes and jam. Banana jam and banana jelly can be healthy, delightful and uncommon addition to our breakfast tables with more frequency.  

Banana chips can be a wonderful teatime snack that needs more extensive usage in our coffee cafes and other eating out outlets. These are particularly popular snacking option in Kerala. 

In fact, Kerala has used banana in varied number of ingenious ways. Banana porridge for babies, raw banana roast, banana coconut payasam are only some of the banana-based delicacies from the southern state, known for its awesome tourist appeal. In Kerala, cooking banana is even used in the preparation of dosas. These culinary delights deserve more widespread usage in India’s food service industry.

In the Philippine cuisine, banana is an integral part of dishes like maruya and turón, Maruya is a type of fritter generally made of saba bananas. It may also be served with slices of jackfruit, preserved in syrup or ice-cream. In Bengal, kolar boda or banana fritter is a delectable sweet dish that should never be excluded by the restaurants and hotels thinking of hosting a Bengali food festival. Across Bengali households, this dish is often a creative way to use overripe bananas, which are no longer tasty enough to be eaten raw.

According to Wikipedia, Pisang goring, which comprises bananas fried with batter similar to the Filipino maruya, is also a popular dish in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. In the UK and the US also banana fritters are being partaken. 

Cooking banana is used as a vegetable in West Bengal, and is often had to cure upset stomach. Plantain curry in Kerala is a delicacy. Sticky rice with curd and jaggery; topped with banana pieces is a breakfast dish named Jolpan in Assam.

As far as beverage goes, banana shake and banana smoothie are tasty and nutritious beverages which should gain more popularity as breakfast options in Indian homes. Banana wine and banana beer are banana-based alcoholic beverages.   Banana beer in Kerala is known as urwaga. Bananas can be used to concoct some wonderful cocktails too. Banana daiquiri is a popular cocktail.

Banana is Health 

Banana is endowed with several health benefits. According to USDA, bananas are a rich source of protein, potassium, carbohydrates, and dietary fibre. What is more, bananas have negligible fat and no cholesterol. The fruit is rich in potassium, which helps in regulating blood pressure. Bananas are also sufficiently spruced with fibre, which gives you a feeling of being full for a long time. Therefore bananas are often partaken during breakfast. Bananas are also good for the heart health.

The high iron content in bananas helps them in addressing anaemia. Intake of bananas with its high fibre content can also contribute towards reducing stress on the cardiovascular system. Research also suggests that banana consumption can facilitate metabolism. So we can see that overweight persons can lose weight by consuming bananas on a regular basis; of course in moderation. 

A banana a day can also help in keeping osteoporosis at bay, which is a frequent malady of old age. Yes, the chances of getting afflicted by osteoporosis get reduced by the regular intake of bananas.  Bananas can help to prevent ulcers and according to a recent research, do play a role in preventing kidney disorders too. 

Owing to its high fibre content, bananas can also be used to treat piles. That is not all. Bananas can play a role in alleviating eye related problems like macular degeneration, cataract, and night blindness. The intake of this fruit on a regular basis can also contribute to the health of the eyes. 

With such amazing health benefits and with such a wide variety of culinary applications, bananas should feature more prominently in our restaurant menus in more and more creative avatars, especially when our consumers are tending to be moving towards health conscious age. The health benefits of banana should be highlighted in the banana-based dishes served at the restaurants. This exercise would not only raise long-term public consciousness but also short-term revenues of food service outlets in the process.

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