“On a traffic light green means go and yellow means yield, but on a banana it's just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, and red means where the hell did you get that banana at...”
—Mitch Hedberg, American comedian, 1968-2005
Bananas are a global favorite and one of the world’s largest fruit crop, right up there with grapes, citrus and apples. There are hundreds of banana species, but the large, yellow eating banana you find in your supermarket is likely to be the Cavendish. Other varieties include the short, chunky red banana, the baby banana (also known as a dwarf or ladyfinger banana) and the Manzano, which has berry and apple flavors. No matter what variety you choose, a banana is a healthy choice for lunchboxes and between-meal snacks.
At 105 calories, a medium (7 1/2-inch) banana is a nutrient powerhouse, providing vitamin B6 (22% Daily Value), vitamin C (15% DV), potassium (12% DV), magnesium (8% DV), folate (6% DV) and 3 grams fiber. It also has virtually no fat, sodium or cholesterol.
Unlike most other fruits, bananas are able to be picked while still very green. They are best for eating when their skin ripens to yellow and starches convert rapidly to sugars.
1. Baby Banana—Now appearing in many supermarkets, this variety is also known as the ladyfinger banana, bananito or murapo. The sweetest of the commercial bananas, it tastes of cinnamon, guava and pineapple. When to eat: Its thick skin turns yellow with black spots when ripe.
2. Red Banana—This smallish mahogany-colored fruit, also called Indio, Cuban Red, Jamaican Red, Macaboo and Morado, hails from Ecuador and Central America. Its creamy white to pink flesh has a slight raspberry flavor and floral aroma. Higher in vitamin C than yellow varieties, it is also rich in carotene: the redder the color, the more carotene it contains. When to eat: The skin should be bronze-black and yield to gentle pressure.
3. Manzano Banana—Also known as the “apple banana,” the stubby Manzano has a sweet taste reminiscent of apples and strawberries. When to eat: Its thick skin will be heavily mottled with black, but color isn’t always the best indicator: it should yield to gentle pressure before eating (when unripe, Manzanos can be very tannic).
4. Cavendish Banana—The most common variety in North American supermarkets is cultivated by the majority of large-scale banana growers for worldwide distribution. When to eat: Allow to ripen at room temperature and consume after its skin fully changes from green to yellow.
Ripe bananas can be refrigerated, although this blackens the skins. A yellowing banana emits generous amounts of ethylene gas, which can help hasten the ripening of tomatoes, avocados, green bananas and other fruits when enclosed together in a paper or plastic bag.
When given a choice of conventional or organic bananas, animals at the Copenhagen Zoo opt for organic. According to their keepers, chimpanzees and tapirs devour organic bananas, skin and all, while the dexterous primates peel conventionally grown bananas before consumption.