I was a little amused by a post that I saw this week off topic and focused on selecting the best banana as an analogue to people hiring. There is of course never a single answer that perfectly encapsulates the choice we would each make. There is also no guarantee that the choice that we make, no matter how considered or rationalised – is the one that will meet with the perfect end result.
I think first off you have to consider that choosing the “right” banana is a little bit random.
The banana may have been an unappealing sickly sweet one, squishy, black and mushy or as hard as a pencil eraser, bitter and chalky.
While the texture and colour are not always a guarantee, they do provide some clues.
The veteran top banana picker knows that the banana with the green skin and lack of ‘give’ to a gentle bending action is likely underripe. The limp yellow banana with blackening seams or dark spots like freckles is likely past its prime and overripe.
All that said, the ultimate question is “what is it exactly that you want to do with the banana?“.
My aunt and uncle who were very heavily influenced by my grandfather and his experiences as an expatriate living in Singapore. You would think that he knew a fresh banana when he saw one. Either way, they were particularly fond of those overripe bananas while i steered away from them. While everyone else turned their noses up at the freckled banana, these “weird” relatives adored them for their softness and sweetness.
The popularity of the freckled banana perhaps stems from the fact that bananas are typically harvested while still green. Picking them green helps to ensure that they don’t get too ripe by the time they get to the market.
not one banana left behind…
In our house, no banana ever makes its way to the garbage bin no unless it is visibly quite dead. We’ve all seen a dead banana I am sure. They’re completely black, lifeless, perhaps a little stiff and quite possibly swarming with fruit flies or ants or some form of invertebrate. No, even the most freckled of bananas will be carefully peeled and frozen either in a ziplock bag or a plastic container for use some other day in a smoothy or a baked good. Even an overripe banana has some value and some use. I tried freezing them in their skins but removing the skin when they defrost is a nightmare. Don’t try this at home.
going for green
So, what can you do with a green banana you might ask? Green bananas provide additional nutrients and benefits that yellow bananas don’t. The green banana is rich in this thing called “resistant starch” and pectin. This supposedly makes eating a green banana more filling, leads to improved digestion and helps lower blood sugar levels. Since unripe bananas are composed of as much as 80% starch it is interesting that as the banana ripens, the starch gets converted into sugars – hence all that brownness when overripe.
If you can suffer the bitterness and texture a green banana’s health benefits may be appealing enough. You may also want to be careful with green bananas if you’re allergic to latex – though this seems a little random, this is also a problem with unripe papaya also.
The “resistant starch” and pectin decrease as the banana ripens, so yellow bananas with a bit of green still contain small amounts. These are actually my favourite bananas. They’re quite firm, but not chalky or bitter but also not terribly sweet. For those who want to eat their bananas straight away though, these may still be considered, incorrectly, as underripe.
Another factor to consider with an underripe banana is the fact that they can be cooked. Green bananas and yellow bananas are used a great deal in Caribbean cooking. In some arts “green banana” and “Caribbean fig” are used interchangeably, on the Spanish islands of Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico they’re known as “guineos verdes“.
Green bananas are often prepared as one would prepare vegetables rather than as a fruit. Green bananas are also often used instead of plantains when plantains aren’t available.
Finally, consider that not all bananas are made equal. All bananas have facets that make them more or less suitable for different function, just as for people I guess.
Consider these awesome varietals, many of which I have tried and can attest to being… well just… top bananas!
going for gold
There are a thousand or so banana varieties out there a – what you find in the supermarket is generally a Cavendish and they hit the news in 2016 as being heavily at risk as a result of what CNN called a ‘global banana crisis‘
Everyone loves a ‘Baby’
Half the size of the standard Cavendish, generally sold as a snack product for kids. Chiquita brands this product of the Pisang Mas variety, originally from Malaysia; Dole has Minis which include the Ladyfinger and Orito.
There’s no reliable way to determine which kind you’re getting, you’ll have to just engage in experimentation.
Babies must be very ripe to reach full sweetness; the skin should look deep brown, with dark streaks. According to Saveur.com – they’re worth the wait if you buy them green or yellow and let them ripen in the basket.
Manzano a variety native to Central and South America, belongs to a subcategory known as apple bananas. A stubby, thick-skinned, golden yellow fruit that is commonly known as the “apple banana”, this gourmet banana has a delicious, sweet taste with a hint of apple and strawberry. This short, plump, finger-sized variety will turn dark yellow when ripe. Manzano Bananas are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C. Eat one a day! They contain 8 amino-acids our body cannot produce itself. A firm texture with a complex scent marked by a strong tart-apple aroma and a tart taste.
the chunky burro
Stubbier and fatter than the Cavendish. The Burro is grown in Mexico, as with many non-Cavendish varieties, you’ll want to let this fruit ripen a good long while. Its peel is a rich, vivid, dark green that turns deep yellow with characteristic black spots when ripe. When young, the flesh of the Burro banana is tart and tangy with notes of apple and lime. As the fruit matures, the yellow flesh is soft on the outside with a slightly crisp textured center. A ripe Burro banana is creamy and sweet with lemon undertones.
nothing plain about plantain
An entire subset of the banana family, plantains are a kind of banana that is usually cooked. Rarely eaten raw – they are a cheap and delicious substitute for potatoes or rice in many Latin American cuisines. The plantain averages about 65% moisture content and the banana averages about 83% moisture content. If you’ve never eaten cooked plantains , you’re in for a major treat. Certain African countries already know this, as plantains and bananas provide more than 25 percent of food energy requirements for about 70 million people.
Sometimes confused with the Lacatan from the Philippines , the red banana has a sweet taste and a creamy texture with raspberry highlights. Red bananas are shorter, plumper and heartier than the Cavendish banana. It should only be eaten when ripe. Unripe and immature Red banana tastes dry and chalky. When ripe, it will have a thick, brick red peel and ivory-hued semi soft flesh.
Check out the nutritional facts on the humble banana