The banana plant is not a tree, its actually a giant herb. Thought to have originated in Malaysia, bananas are now grown in most tropical and subtropical countries. They are one of the most popular fruit in the world and serve as a staple food in many countries.
Common varieties of banana
There are many varieties of banana. The most popular grown in Australia are:
- Musa basjoo – also known as the Japanese Fibre Banana this variety is more cool tolerant than many other varieties.
- Lady Finger – a hardy variety with small fruit.
- Goldfinger – good in cooler climates this variety produces small, thin-skinned fruit.
- Misi Luki - requires more heat than the above varieties but produces much larger bunches.
Bananas are an excellent source of vitamin B6 which is important for cognitive function and immune function. They are also a good source of fibre, vitamin C, potassium and manganese.
Selecting and storing bananas
Bananas are picked when they are still green so are often seen in shops in any colour range from green to yellow. A good idea is to buy your bananas in different stages of ripeness. This will cater to different tastes in your family or allow fruit to be eaten all week as it ripens to the desirable level.
Select bananas that are free of bruised skin and have intact stems.
To ripen simply leave at room temperature or to speed up ripening you can place them in a paper bag at room temperature. Avoid storing in the refrigerator as this stops the ripening process and ripening will not occur even if returned to room temperature. Ripe bananas can be stored in the refridgerator for a few days, however the skin will turn black, but this has no effect on the flesh inside.
Also when you have really ripe bananas that are not wanted to be eaten any longer, peel the skin off and freeze in small plastic bags or plastic wrap – they are great in smoothies or make the best banana cakes or muffins.
As well as being eaten raw bananas can be added to many recipes.
For a bit of variety try some of these delicious banana recipes:
Banana, Walnut and Date Bread
Apricot and Banana Muffins
Malted Banana Smoothie
Banana French Toast
Tropical Fruit Kebabs
How to grow your own bananas
Bananas thrive in warm conditions with growth stopping at temperatures below 15°C in most varieties. The Musa basjoo variety however can tolerate heavy frosts when covered with protective mulch.
Banana plants must be planted in spring and summer when the soil is warm. They need plenty of water, manure and mulch in order to grow and produce prolific fruit.
Fruiting can occur at any time of the year, usually 18 months to 2 years after planting. If fruiting occurs in the cooler months cover the bunch with a plastic bag (open at the bottom) to help the ripening process.
After harvesting a bunch of bananas, cut the spent stem off as it will not fruit again. Only allow two new suckers to grow each year, as extra ones will compete with each other and reduce fruiting (suckers are offshoots that sprout from the base of the main trunk).