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Is there such a thing as a "bad" banana; or to put it another way, is there such a thing as a "really good" banana?

ipsedixit Jan 31, 2012 06:39 AM

Isn't just about every banana about equally good (or bad) as every other banana?

If you like your banana a bit raw (or "crunchy" if you will), then you eat them when they're still greenish-yellow, or just pale green.

If you like your banana a bit softer or more ripe, then you eat them when their yellow, or perhaps even when they're a bit brown.

Aside from that variation -- which is more a function of time than quality per se -- aren't all bananas just about as good as any other banana?

Can we say the same thing about any other fruit? Not apples, oranges, berries (any kind), peaches, pears, etc.

Am I missing something?

  1. mamachef Jan 31, 2012 06:43 AM

    It's completely subjective, Ipse: according to personal taste. To me the best banana is one that's not fully yellow, just a titch of green at either end, but not crunchy. On the other hand, my uncle who grew up on the Lower East Side and bought bananas off pushcarts, needs his banana to be completly black before he'll touch it. Uggh.

    2 Replies
    1. re: mamachef
      ipsedixit Jan 31, 2012 06:47 AM

      Agreed. But like I said above, whether a banana is green or brown is more a function of time than anything having to do with the quality of the banana itself.

      In other words, the *same* banana can be either green or brown and that quality by itself is not determinative of whether that particular banana is good or bad.

      Or put another way, the question isn't whether you like your bananas green or brown, but regardless of whether you like them brown or green, aren't all bananas basically the same?

      1. re: ipsedixit
        EWSflash Jan 31, 2012 07:11 PM

        No. I like really good bananas, and hate the bad ones- and I've no idea how to tell one from the other, some are just wonderful and some are completely gross. The little burro bananas are almost always good if you can get them, but I disagree that supermarket bananas are always bad, I just don't know how to tell the good ones from the bad ones. I guess that living in the southern US may be a good start- shorter distance from the source? Maybe not.

    2. arashall Jan 31, 2012 07:00 AM

      I'll add a proviso. Every American grocery store banana is as good as any other. And they are generally bland and tasteless. When you get away from Dole, etc, there are lots of delicious variations on bananas all over the world, and they are generally much more tasty (and not picked and shipped months in advance) than what we get here! I had some tiny ones in India called an "apple banana" and they were wonderful, and did have a kind of apple-like background flavor. We are really missing out on how good bananas can be!

      3 Replies
      1. re: arashall
        ipsedixit Jan 31, 2012 07:02 AM

        Totally agree.

        My question should be limited to bananas at most US markets.

        Bananas in Taiwan were like sucking on a lollipop. It even smelled fantastic.

        Thanks.

        1. re: arashall
          c
          Cachetes Jan 31, 2012 07:19 AM

          I agree, though with a bit of poking it's possible to find some of that variety in bananas in the area where I live. While the Cavendish is still the main one available, I'll occasionally find the small Red bananas. I'm not sure I've ever found the small yellows here though. Both of the latter I like better than the Cavendish b/c of the texture.

          Does anyone here remember the Gros Michel bananas of the 1950s and early 1960s? I'm too young to have tried one, but I wonder how different they are from the Cavendish in terms of taste and texture.

          1. re: arashall
            KaimukiMan Feb 1, 2012 12:32 AM

            yes, we get apple banana's in the grocery store in Hawaii and they are very different than the the American standard banana. Those are remarkably consistent, somewhere there is an old thread by the late Sam Fujisaka about the good, bad, and dangerous aspects of that consistency (no genetic diversity at all.)

          2. DuchessNukem Jan 31, 2012 07:10 AM

            Isn't the typical yellow US banana the same as every other US yellow banana genetically?

            http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2008-06/can-fruit-be-saved
            http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/b...

            That said, I have found variations in texture and creaminess in same-ripeness bananas. And also flavor, now that I think of it: I've had some bananas with fainter overall flavor (again, not age-related).

            1 Reply
            1. re: DuchessNukem
              coll Feb 1, 2012 01:36 AM

              One time I bought organic bananas because they were the same price as regular and they were way better than the usual ones. I almost think they were a regular brand like Dole, just organic. I enjoyed every bite; it was a revelation. But the 29 cents a lb ones I usually buy on sale do all taste the same, year in and year out, no matter what the brand. Think I'll look around a little, now that you reminded me.

            2. chowser Jan 31, 2012 07:48 AM

              I've wondered the same thing. Even with the much maligned red delicious apple, a good one off the tree can be delicious. But bananas seem almost factory produced, no variation.

              2 Replies
              1. re: chowser
                mamachef Jan 31, 2012 07:55 AM

                Finger bananas can be marvelous. I'm lucky to live in a place w/ a large Mexican population, and we have supermarket bananas, plantains, finger nanas, etc. because they demand it.

                1. re: mamachef
                  chowser Jan 31, 2012 08:16 AM

                  I love finger bananas and the size but I mean the traditional banana you see in grocery stores. I have never had one of those and thought, "Wow, what a great banana" as I do with other fruits, even run of the mill grocery store ones.

              2. sunshine842 Jan 31, 2012 07:58 AM

                They're closer to being the same **at the commercial level** -- but absolutely not at the small-producer or backyard level.

                There are hundreds of cultivars of bananas, and they each have their own flavor profile and texture.

                I used to have a small stand of bananas in my yard in Florida -- they were so sweet and creamy my niece called them "ice cream bananas" -- and yes, they tasted like banana ice cream.

                I'd trade them for the varieties that others grew, like apple bananas mentioned above.

                There's a lot to be said for tree-ripened fruit, rather than mass-produced, gassed varieties, too.

                5 Replies
                1. re: sunshine842
                  chowser Jan 31, 2012 08:17 AM

                  I wonder why heirloom bananas haven't become popular, like other produce.

                  1. re: chowser
                    sunshine842 Jan 31, 2012 08:46 AM

                    because they're hard to grow anywhere but about a zone 10 -- they need 24 months without frost to bear fruit -- even in Florida that's not a given every year.

                    1. re: sunshine842
                      j
                      jumpingmonk Jan 31, 2012 04:28 PM

                      Another problem is that a lot of the older bananas are still fertile, and hence still produce seeds. And before you say "so what" many bananas (incuding the fertile version of the Cavendish) have seeds that are the size of the end of your thumb, and as hard as a rock. wild bananas actually have to be bitten into very carefully,unless you want broken teeth.
                      BTW a Chinese supermarket near me sells apple bananas.

                  2. re: sunshine842
                    porker Jan 31, 2012 09:01 AM

                    "There's a lot to be said for tree-ripened fruit, rather than mass-produced, gassed varieties, too."

                    This is what I was thinking when I saw the thread. I always assumed a banana was a banana until I ate ripe, just-picked fruit in the Caribbean. They have quite a bit more flavor than the usual North American store-bought stuff.

                    1. re: sunshine842
                      GraydonCarter Jan 31, 2012 02:32 PM

                      I had forgotten how well bananas grow in SE Florida... like a weed. You've really got to keep them under control.

                    2. w
                      wyogal Jan 31, 2012 08:23 AM

                      Two issues going on: 1. diversity of type and 2. Diversity within type
                      I am reading the question in the OP as #2. Within the type that we see the most (usually, although there are exceptions).... the big yellow banana. That is the model for the bag containing the tiles for the scrabble type game, "Bananas!"
                      I am not a fan of green bananas, like them just right. Not too ripe.
                      I hear ya, ripening stages is a process of time. As for comparing taste within type, I find that it is pretty uniform.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: wyogal
                        sunshine842 Jan 31, 2012 08:50 AM

                        most bananas are big yellow bananas. There are a few that run towards red, and a few that are small (and a few that are small and red...) but most of them are yellow.

                        1. re: sunshine842
                          w
                          wyogal Jan 31, 2012 10:11 AM

                          yep. my point. but others are talking about different types as well.

                          1. re: sunshine842
                            coll Feb 1, 2012 01:42 AM

                            Oh like this type?

                            http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=h...

                          2. re: wyogal
                            ipsedixit Feb 1, 2012 06:38 AM

                            wyogal, you are right.

                            I am talking about diversity within type.

                          3. s
                            soupkitten Jan 31, 2012 08:53 AM

                            this is one instance where the case can be strongly made for a certified organic, ungassed fruit. organic bananas taste better, have stronger flavor, creamier/less grainy texture, more fragrance. they also are edible well into the "overripe" stage when conventional bananas will be brown mush. ime even little kids and babies can tell the difference and will be attracted to the organic banana.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: soupkitten
                              meatn3 Jan 31, 2012 09:10 AM

                              Completely agree. Organic Cavendish have better flavor and lack the metallic aftertaste sometimes experienced in conventional bananas.

                              Perhaps with the increasing availability of less common foods we will start seeing a wider array of bananas? The best I ever had was called Golden Cloud - each fruit was the size of half of a big mans thumb and the taste was of pure honey! I've never seen it sold - it was a backyard variety in Florida.

                              1. re: soupkitten
                                visciole Feb 3, 2012 05:37 AM

                                I agree. I think the organic bananas taste better and usually are only slightly more expensive. But I disagree that they're the one instance of this being true. Some other varieties of organic produce taste better to me, too.

                                1. re: visciole
                                  ipsedixit Feb 3, 2012 06:46 AM

                                  At least in US markets that I've been too (CA, AZ, DC, FL, TX and WA), organic bananas taste no different (either better or worse) than the conventional kind.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                    rworange Feb 3, 2012 11:19 PM

                                    Organic or not, they are picked green to survive the trip and don't develop the flavor of a ripe banana.

                                    i never had a bad banana living in Gautemala. One had a taste of strawberries. The bananas looked like hell with bruised skin and they turned black but weren't mushy inside.

                                    i haven't bought a banana since i returned and if i do it will be organic, fair trade.

                                    A friend who drove the bananas from the plantations to the boats brought us a box and told us it would take about six weeks for them to ripen because they are sprayed to keep them from ripening. When they get to their destination, they are processed so they start to ripen.

                                    The irony was that I was always being told that the best bananas were sent to the US. No, the best bananas wouldn't survive the trip.

                                    The banana trade is deplorable. It is the perfect example of what a company will do if left unregulated by the government. The bananas are sprayed without warning the workers who are often sent to the hospital with burnt skin and major respitory problems ... if they survive.

                                    Like I said, if I do buy another banana it has to be organic, fair-trade. The lives and healh of fellow human beings are worth the extra cost to me

                                  2. re: visciole
                                    s
                                    soupkitten Feb 3, 2012 10:04 AM

                                    very big difference in "this is one instance" and "this is *the* one instance." my post used the former...

                                    1. re: soupkitten
                                      visciole Feb 3, 2012 05:16 PM

                                      Oh, sorry, indeed I misread your post! My bad, as they say. I agree with you.

                                      1. re: visciole
                                        s
                                        soupkitten Feb 3, 2012 08:18 PM

                                        absolutely no prob, glad we agree! :)

                                2. h
                                  Harters Jan 31, 2012 09:38 AM

                                  I prefer my banana skins to be well blackened before I consider the fruit properly ripe.

                                  1. i
                                    INDIANRIVERFL Jan 31, 2012 10:01 AM

                                    I have had Red Jamaicans, Ice Cream, and Horse bananas from various back yards. The wild bananas here look and taste like stunted Cavendish.

                                    It takes a lot of fertiliser for the plant to continue producing fruit after the first 2 to 3 hands. Those large stalks you see from commercial farms are produced by tons of commercial fertiliser. It is rediculously cheaper to buy the varieties at $3.00 to $5.00 a pound than to grow them yourself. Unless you have a source of well rotted manure.

                                    Bananas are like mangos and apples. Widely diverse with only a few commercial strains.

                                    At least I have plenty of banana flower bulbs for stir fry.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL
                                      Sam Salmon Jan 31, 2012 10:10 AM

                                      The Best Bananas I've ever had were from the Kingdom of Tonga-specifically those grown in the volcanic soil of the Vava'u Archipelago.

                                      Lovely round flavour with a background of orange and hints of smoke-just an amazing fruit.

                                      The Avocados were outstanding as well.

                                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL
                                        GraydonCarter Jan 31, 2012 02:33 PM

                                        I've really converted to Red Bananas. They are softer and sweeter than the yellow Cavendish bananas.

                                      2. meatn3 Jan 31, 2012 11:22 AM

                                        A slight detour - interesting "fieldtrip" to a banana ripening facility:

                                        http://www.ediblegeography.com/spaces...

                                        1. greygarious Jan 31, 2012 06:00 PM

                                          At least 10 years ago, I saw - probably on PBS's The Victory Garden - a feature on a field trip to a banana farm/plantation in California. Near or in Santa Barbara, I believe. They tasted many different non-commercial varieties, as I drooled listening to the flavor descriptions. I would have hoped these would make their way into supermarkets but not so far, and our New England farmers are never going to be able to grow them.

                                          I agree that supermarket bananas are of more consistent quality than most other produce there. Exceptions that come to mind are ordinary potatoes, button mushrooms, cabbage, and zucchini.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: greygarious
                                            a
                                            acgold7 Feb 6, 2012 09:26 PM

                                            I actually went to that place right after the show first aired, probably close to 20 years ago now. They did have some great varieties. I think it was called the Seaside Banana Plantation or Company. Sadly, it's long gone.

                                          2. IndyGirl Jan 31, 2012 07:32 PM

                                            I hate all bananas, so, for me, there's no difference!

                                            1. o
                                              ola Jan 31, 2012 07:37 PM

                                              Responders have said that there are different varieties out there, but I have only seen red and yellow. So, yellow is Cavendish? What other varieties are there? Do I need to go to the tropics to taste them? Not that going to the tropics wouldn't be great...

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: ola
                                                sunshine842 Jan 31, 2012 11:18 PM

                                                there are two actual species -- but there are *hundreds* of cultivars descended from those two -- there's not enough space here to list them all.

                                                1. re: ola
                                                  p
                                                  pine time Feb 1, 2012 08:24 AM

                                                  Best bananas I ever had were in India, called elichii. I've never found them in the US, or determined if there's another name for them. About 1/2 the size of Cavendish, very sweet and almost floral fragrance.

                                                  1. re: ola
                                                    porker Feb 1, 2012 11:47 AM

                                                    You know, everytime I get to the tropics, my quest to taste different bananas gets sidetracked by my quest to taste different rums....

                                                    1. re: porker
                                                      sunshine842 Feb 1, 2012 11:54 AM

                                                      I can't remember who made it - but there used to be a Banana rum available in the tropics -- and it was pretty good, IIRC. (clear glass bottle, peach-colored label - the same company made coconut and pineapple rums, too -- LOOOOONG before Malibu and Captain Morgan ever appeared in the rum world)

                                                  2. Rich102 Feb 3, 2012 01:05 AM

                                                    //Am I missing something?//

                                                    Yes, like most of us with limited selections to choose from. I was in Hawaii recently and sort of pigged out on the local apple bananas. They were about 2/3 the size of the typical supermarket bananas (at least the biggest ones were-- there was a considerable range of sizes), perhaps just a bit thicker for their length, and very tasty. Similar flavor, just more intense, although if I let them get ripe enough there was a little of the apple flavor that gives them their name. (The stores also had big yellow bananas from Ecuador. Seems silly when they can grow bananas locally.)

                                                    Locally here in the Chicago area I can occasionally score some red bananas at Indian markets, and the little yellow ones at Mexican markets. The little yellow ones (niños) can be pretty good, but you have to eat half a dozen to get as much banana as one of the large yellow ones.

                                                    For more than you want to know about bananas (and several other types of tropical and subtropical fruits) you should visit hawaiifruit.net, a web site run my Ken Love, who has been studying fruit that will grow there for many years. For bananas, go to
                                                    http://www.hawaiifruit.net/indexdata.... and page down to the "Going Bananas!" section. He's put together some posters of various fruit, one of which is "Big Island Bananas with new images" (use your browser to increase the image size). Several of the other clicks in Going Bananas! have pictures, too.

                                                    The mango and avocado sections are also very interesting.

                                                    Too bad the powers that be make it so difficult for Hawaiian produce to be shipped to the mainland. I had a locally grown mango there that was the best I've ever had.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Rich102
                                                      KaimukiMan Feb 3, 2012 10:06 AM

                                                      unfortunately mediterranean fruit flies, considered to be one of the worlds most destructive fruit pests, were introduced to hawaii sometime between 1905 and 1910 from Australia. this has a serious effect on hawaii's abiity to export agricultural products to the US mainland.

                                                      1. re: KaimukiMan
                                                        EWSflash Feb 6, 2012 05:38 PM

                                                        I wondered why- thanks for saying that.

                                                    2. j
                                                      jujuthomas Feb 3, 2012 12:43 PM

                                                      As someone says up thread - most grocery store bananas in the US are the same. We got some great fair trade bananas from Costa Rica at Whole foods last winter, but the BEST bananas IMO are those we get on vacation on St. Lucia - they are grown on the island so allowed to ripen on the tree much longer. YUM

                                                      1. coll Feb 3, 2012 12:53 PM

                                                        You know, this is like when I was a kid and all there was were waxed Macintosh or Delicious apples and rock hard plums and peaches. It's getting better all the time, and bananas are hopefully next up.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: coll
                                                          a
                                                          acgold7 Feb 6, 2012 09:29 PM

                                                          Not to get too OT, but a really fresh Delicious or Mac can be spectacular. Not at all like the ones you typically get in the markets, which have probably been in cold storage for a year or so.

                                                          1. re: acgold7
                                                            coll Feb 6, 2012 11:38 PM

                                                            Oh, now I know to go to the apple farms, believe me. My first lesson was never to buy the ones in plastic bags in the supermarket, which is all they used to have when I was young. Now I'm an apple fan and connoisseur, and buy each variety only when they're in season. Even the ethnic stores have at least a dozen different apples in the fall now; I looked for other banana varieties the other day but all they had was plantains. I know I've seen others sometimes so I will keep checking.

                                                        2. a
                                                          akq Feb 3, 2012 04:13 PM

                                                          Not at all. There are a ton of different types of bananas with different tastes and textures. Growing up, my family had four different types in our backyard and my fav was a really nice one that we called an "ice cream banana" that had a slightly reddish tone to the fruit. I also love apple bananas. The "bad" bananas are the ones you get in some supermarkets that are bred for transport and size rather than taste. They have the tannins that make your mouth feel dry and an almost indistinguishable banana taste.

                                                          15 Replies
                                                          1. re: akq
                                                            w
                                                            wyogal Feb 3, 2012 04:58 PM

                                                            The OP was asking about differences in taste among one type, not differences in taste among several different types.

                                                            1. re: wyogal
                                                              sunshine842 Feb 4, 2012 06:43 AM

                                                              Not even a little bit -- the OP asked, "Isn't just about every banana about equally good (or bad) as every other banana?" and in fact goes on to mention the difference in taste with apples, peaches, pears, oranges, etc., etc., etc.

                                                              That doesn't in any way preclude a discussion of organic, tree-ripened, or the variations between different cultivars.

                                                              1. re: sunshine842
                                                                w
                                                                wyogal Feb 4, 2012 09:48 AM

                                                                so, I guess upthread when I said this, and the OP replied with "exactly" that I must have missed the code or something that actually means the opposite.

                                                                "wyogal, you are right.

                                                                I am talking about diversity within type."

                                                                1. re: wyogal
                                                                  sunshine842 Feb 4, 2012 12:15 PM

                                                                  there are different kinds of big yellow bananas.

                                                                  Makes a pretty darned short conversation if you're going to limit the conversation to ONLY storebought bananas of a SINGLE cultivar.

                                                                  It's pretty much like asking if there's any flavor variations amongst Red Delicious apples bought at the supermarket.

                                                                  1. re: sunshine842
                                                                    rworange Feb 4, 2012 12:32 PM

                                                                    >>> It's pretty much like asking if there's any flavor variations amongst Red Delicious apples bought at the supermarket

                                                                    Or asking if there is any flavor variation in apples in general.

                                                                    1. re: rworange
                                                                      ipsedixit Feb 4, 2012 12:38 PM

                                                                      Or asking if there is any flavor variation in apples in general.
                                                                      _____________________________________

                                                                      There certainly is variation in apple varieties.

                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                        sunshine842 Feb 4, 2012 01:11 PM

                                                                        and thus our answer that yes, there is considerable variation in banana varieties.

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842
                                                                          ipsedixit Feb 4, 2012 09:10 PM

                                                                          But that wasn't my question.

                                                                          1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                            w
                                                                            wyogal Feb 4, 2012 09:26 PM

                                                                            sigh. I understand what you are asking. I hear ya. I feel your pain.
                                                                            ;-)

                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                                                              c
                                                                              collardman Feb 6, 2012 03:10 PM

                                                                              As an aside, you can't tell a banana by its cover. The best way to learn the ripeness of a banana is by smelling it. The covering can yellow or brown due to other factors (not necessarily good factors).

                                                                              Practice a little. Green smells green and ripe smells sweetly ripe. You'll soon pick the variations inbetween.

                                                                            2. re: sunshine842
                                                                              chowser Feb 6, 2012 02:44 PM

                                                                              The question, as I understood it, is within the standard bananas typically found in grocery stores--is there much variation? In the red delicious example I gave above, a red delicious can be very good right off the tree. I have had a red delicious and thought, this is great; or vice versa, this is mealy and inedible. However, I have never had that variation with the generic bananas in stores. The question was not "are all varieties of bananas the same?" Obviously no, a finger banana isn't the same as a plantain.

                                                                              1. re: chowser
                                                                                KaimukiMan Feb 6, 2012 03:40 PM

                                                                                yep, a cavendish is a cavendish is a cavendish. very little variation.

                                                                                1. re: chowser
                                                                                  ipsedixit Feb 6, 2012 07:37 PM

                                                                                  Bingo, chowser. Bingo!

                                                                    2. re: wyogal
                                                                      a
                                                                      akq Feb 6, 2012 04:54 PM

                                                                      Well, my answer is still that there is a difference. I love bananas and go through long stretches of eating one+ a day for breakfast and I certainly notice a that some are better than others - they have more banana taste and less tannin mouthfeel than others.

                                                                      IMHO this question has been limited so much that its kind of silly - the big yellow bananas in the store are all bred to be the same and if you aren't counting differences in ripeness, nor allowing answers for different varieties or any other of the factors that most influence taste and texture differences...what's the point? Still, as someone who eats a lot of bananas: yes, even some of the big yellow store bought bananas are better than others.

                                                                      1. re: akq
                                                                        w
                                                                        wyogal Feb 6, 2012 04:57 PM

                                                                        It's as valid a question as many that I've seen on these boards. IMHO.

                                                                  2. goodhealthgourmet Feb 6, 2012 05:22 PM

                                                                    "Aside from that variation -- which is more a function of time than quality per se -- aren't all bananas just about as good as any other banana?"
                                                                    ~~~~~~~~~
                                                                    nope. bananas at the exact same stage of ripeness can differ noticeably in texture, flavor and aroma.

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