Banana Answer Man

I’ve received many, many emails the last few days about the Top Banana post down below, asking what other varieties of bananas are out there, where they can be had, and even whether they can be grown at home.

That last question reminded me of one of my great boyhood caveat emptor moments. I was perhaps twelve years old and I’d seen an ad on television for a grow-it-yourself dwarf banana tree. In the ad, the trees were five feet high, bristling with plumage and produced as many miniature bananas as a family of 15 could eat (it seemed that way, at least). I could hardly wait to get one. I sent in my $14.95 and waited the standard 4-6 weeks for delivery. It finally arrived by special delivery one dark November weeknight, in a box that was roughly the size of a can of soup. I opened it to find a tiny green shoot with two leaves attached. Given that I lived in Chicago, the poor thing was probably doomed to begin with. Still I gave it my best shot for as long as it took for both leaves to turn brown and fall off. About two weeks, I think.

Nowadays miniature “dwarf” Cavendish bananas aren’t very hard to find even in large chain grocery stores. My neighborhood Kroger occasionally stocks them. Sometimes I can also find small “niño” bananas and red bananas there. In ethnic markets there’s usually an even broader selection: Cuban “lady fingers”, blue Ice Cream bananas, Macabus, burros, Manzanos, the list goes on. Each one has its own unique flavor and texture. A word of advice when trying a new type of banana: ask someone in the produce department when they’re best for eating, since it’s not always obvious when they’re ripe. Some varieties (like the Macabu) have to turn completely black before their starch is converted to sugar.

Here’s something interesting. Did you know that when bananas are harvested they have a 20-1 ratio of starch to sugar? By the time they’re fully ripe that ratio has been completely reversed to 20-1 sugar to starch. In case you’re curious about what kinds of sugars are present in a ripe banana, it’s 66% sucrose, 20% glucose and 14% fructose.

As far as growing them, I don’t have a whole lot of information on that, save for my own — ehem — attempts at banana agriculture. I have a neighbor here in Louisville who grows banana trees, but for ornamental purposes only. Last year one of his trees grew one small banana, which he and his family ate with great ceremony. I’d suggest, if you live in a banana-supporting climate, you visit a nursery where you’ll likely find several different kinds of banana plants for sale.

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