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Jan 22, 2008 10:41 AM

About 1,200 banana varieties – blue, black, maroon, yellow – ‘Dutch Elm disease’ KO’d Big Mike

Did you know the “Gros” Michel, or “Big Mike,” banana, a tastier banana than the current yellow Cavendish variety, was the common banana sold until the early 1960s when it was infected by a fungus called Panama disease similar to Dutch Elm?

Enjoy the Cavendish while you can. There are reports the Cavendish will be no more within 5 - 10 years ... possibly sooner.

According to this popular science article “in 1992, a new strain of the fungus—one that can affect the Cavendish—was discovered in Asia. Since then, Panama disease Race 4 has wiped out plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Taiwan, and it is now spreading through much of Southeast Asia. It has yet to hit Africa or Latin America, but most experts agree that it is coming”

It is also a terrific article on banana history …

“By the early 1900s, bananas surpassed apples as the nation’s favorite fruit, becoming so popular that in the days before municipal trash collection, the slapstick slip on a discarded peel was a genuine hazard. (Luckily, Boy Scouts were on the case: “A good turn may consist in removing a piece of banana peel from the pavement,” their 1914 handbook advised.)”

I bought some pretty red bananas and some tiny Manzanos recently. I’ve tried different banana varieties in the past and didn’t think much of them.

It turns out I may not have ripened them properly.

Manzano’s need to be black before eating and promise the combined flavors of strawberries, apples, and bananas. The dumb bananas are still a cheery yellow after a week on the counter, so can’t say yet.

Red bananas also need to turn blackish. I can tell you what an unripe red banana is, and judging by the VERY unripe one I peeled today the rest of the bunch will need a few weeks.

But from what I’ve read the flesh can be orange-tinted, pink or salmony yellow and have a slight raspberry flavor or an aromatic vanilla flavor. Sounds like it would be good with some of the recipes mentioned in this link …
- Red Banana Brulee with Pink Grapefruit Fruit Salsa
- Strawberry, Rhubarb, and Red Banana Crostata
- Red Bananas with Cardamom over vanilla ice cream.

And if you think you never tried a red banana … according to the link that is what is most commonly used for dried bananas.

They also have more beta carotene and vitamin C than regular bananas.

This link on chow mentions some other varieties …

Ice Cream banana - blue skin and a creamy texture

Burro banana - squared sides and a lemon flavor when ripe;

Guinea Verde - a yellow Cavendish used as a starch much like plantains

Macabu - black when fully ripe, with firm sweet pulp and a creamy texture;

Niño banana - a mild, sweet, finger-sized banana

The Chow recipes on the right have a good-sounding recipe for Banana and Fromage Blanc Grilled Cheese

Popular Science mentions a new variety ... Goldfinger ... that has a slightly tart, apple-like flavor and can be used for cooking or eating plain.

Also, a sweet banana using genetic material from radishes was developed in a Belgium lab. It brings up the question of whether the banana might just be the first genetically-altered crop that the general public might accept faced with the choice of the extinction of the beloved banana.

Gratuitous banana info:

Bunches are also known as hands and the fruit as fingers. The word ‘banana’ comes from the Arabic word for finger. They are actually the world’s largest herb

In a Chow article there was a link for a banana guard … a container to take your banana to work without risk of it squishing.

In Africa there is a beer brewed from bananas.

Bananas seem to have a very boring sex life... see Popular Science article.

I changed the original title from 300 to 1,200 varieties. of bananas. It seems Brussels, Belgium, of all places, has the world's largest collection of bananas and plantains.

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  1. The Manzano bananas finally got black enough to eat. It didn't have the combined flavors of strawberries, apples, and bananas I read about However, it has a very distinctive taste that was like ripe pineapple. The color was a deeper yellow. This would be an interesting banana to use in baking or desserts with its unique flavor.

    1. Love all the Banana information! I heard a documentary on the radio about the banana crisis, and was shocked to hear about this fungus. But was encouraged to hear about the efforts to preserve different types of banana varieties. I have been trying to find bananas other than the Cavendish, but haven't been overly successful. See the odd mini banana, but that is about it. Here's to more interest in Heirloom fruits and vegetables!

      BTW, if you haven't tried the Banana guard and you have issues with squished bananas, well then you need to! I have 3 of them, and they are great! I play in a lot of all weekend ultimate tournaments, and bananas are really great for potassium replenishment. I like to eat them to help prevent leg cramps. It really rocks to be able to throw your banana into your bag and not worry about squishage. The banana ripens perfectly in this thing. i once left a banana in the guard in my car trunk for 10 days in the summer time. I noticed the smell of ripened banana, and found it. When I opened it up, the banana was still edible! A bit overripe for me, as I prefer bananas on the green side, but still edible! Plus, it is a real conversation piece. Especially the hot pink one, and the glow in the dark one.

      4 Replies
        1. re: moh

          Very funny about the glow in the dark banana guard.

          Have you tried stopping by Mexican markets and looked for bananas? That's where I found the Manzanos. Their usual bananas are 50 cents a pound. The Manzanos were $1.89 ... and this store is known for rock bottom produce prices.

          I got the red bananas at Whole Foods. I see those in Mexican markets too, but WF just had the prettiest I've ever seen. The red bananas are still waiting to ripen.

          1. re: rworange

            I will try some of our local Latin American stores, thanks! We don't have a great Mexican culture tradition here in Canada (specifically Quebec). Things are starting to change, but I find we are a bit behind on the heirloom variety market scene. I find a lot of exotic fruits in Asian stores, but there is a bit of a language barrier, and so I often buy things and have no idea what they are called. It's the whole english/french/third language mix we have here, makes it a bit harder to know the names of things. For example, I have no idea about the names of different fish. Is Lotte the same as monkfish? Who knows? And then throw in Chinatown, and all chaos ensues. So i can say, yes this is fish or this is a type of banana, but as for specific varieties, well it's tough. Still, i will look harder for other bananas now! Thanks for the inspiration.

            But I can't complain too much, I can get Fresh Mangosteen here!

            1. re: rworange

              Hi K,

              FYI... my favorite bananas in Mexico are probably the Domenico variety.... I have seen them in L.A. usually around Pueblan or Southern Oaxacan neighborhoods... I haven't seen them at Lola's yet.

              A side story.... I was talking to a friend in Mexico recently... and he said 7 Eleven sells a warm, roasted plantain licuado... mmm I can already imagine a roasted plantain latte!

          2. Black sikatoka is a problem for the limited range of commercial bananas and plantains. You hounds may be in for another problematic discussion if part of the solution turns out to include genetic engineering. You might check out some of the scientific work being done (in addition to the pop science stuff). Look for the site for Bioversity, one of our sister agricultural research institutions.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Interesting site. Here's the link to the banana section

              Gee, those blue bananas really are ... kind of startling

              1. re: rworange

                As Bourdain would say, "Welcome to my world"

            2. The Manzano has been popular in Hawaii for generations, but is more commonly known as "apple banana" because of its flavor. When allowed to fully ripen (past the point most people would choose to eat them as a fruit, they make incredibly good banana bread. Not only that, but they are about half the size of the Cavendish, so they are great for a quick snack. If you are hungrier, then just have two.