Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in New Zealand. In fact, Kiwis eat more bananas per capita than anywhere else in the world, getting through 18kg per person every year. We are not alone in our love for the banana, which is one of the favourite fruits around the world. China and India grow the most, although Ecuador and the Philippines, where we get our bananas, are the biggest exporters.
Bananas are technically a berry and grow on a palm-like plant which is in fact classed as a herb. The modern banana descended from just two varieties to give us a banana with tiny or no seeds. Wild bananas contain large, hard spiky seeds.
Bananas are a non-seasonal crop growing all year round. Each trunk will produce one bunch of bananas while an off-shoot or sucker is coming up behind to produce another in 6–9 months.
Originating in the tropics, bananas, unsurprisingly, go well with tropical fruit and coconut. They also pair well with spicy food.
A list of famous banana dishes, even from countries where fruit is imported, proves the worldwide love affair with them. Think banoffee pie, classic banana split, banana cake or bread and Bananas Foster.
Their creamy sweetness makes for a beautiful base to any smoothie, and frozen bananas can be turned into a one ingredient vegan, gluten free ice cream. Keeping with their health and versatility, ripe bananas’ high sugar content makes them a useful natural sweetener in baked goods.
Classic combinations include bacon, peanut butter, chocolate and rum.
Believe it or not, their handy biodegradable packaging can be eaten too. While raw banana skins can be bitter, when cooked they can be turned into vegan ‘bacon’ and other vegan meat substitutes. The skins, which are high in fibre and potassium, can also be added to curries or baking.
And with the waste not want not theme in mind, the banana blossom, leaves and trunk are also edible and often feature in tropical regional cuisine.
Cavendish – Widely available in New Zealand, this variety is suited for export because it can be picked and transported green. Prior to the 1960s another variety, the Gros Michel, was our mainstay; however, disease decimated the crop. Named after the 7th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, who grew the plant in his greenhouse, vast plantations can be traced back to this one plant. The rise of the same disease in Cavendish plantations may not bode well with increasing signs of the disease a cause for concern in the industry.
Bobby – These smaller bananas are offer better portion control with the same great taste, perfect for lunch boxes, snacks and breakfasts.
Misi Luki is a lady finger variety from Samoa with short, fat, very sweet fruit.
Plantains – Worldwide, there is no sharp distinction between bananas and plantains. Especially in the Americas and Europe, banana usually refers to soft, sweet, dessert bananas, particularly those of the Cavendish group. By contrast, Musa cultivars with firmer, starchier fruit are called plantains. In regions like Southeast Asia, where many more kinds of banana are grown and eaten, there is less distinction made between the two.
Sold green, cooking bananas, or plantains, can be roasted, steamed, fried into tasty chips, and otherwise used like any starchy vegetable. Many different types of bananas can be used as ‘cooking bananas’ while they’re still green and starchy.
Green bananas – Yes, you can eat green bananas. They are firm, starchy and will not have the characteristic banana flavour. Green bananas are usually cooked into soups and stews or boiled and served as is or with other boiled root vegetables.
Banana Blossom – Also known as a banana heart, the banana blossom is a fleshy, purple-skinned flower, shaped like a tear, which grows at the end of a banana fruit cluster. Traditionally used in south-east Asian and Indian cooking, it can also be eaten raw or steamed with dips or cooked in soups, curries and fried foods. More and more popular in western cultures as a vegan fish alternative due to its chunky, flaky texture. The flavour resembles that of an artichoke.
Banana Leaves – Large, flexible and waterproof, banana leaves are often used as ecologically friendly disposable food containers or as ‘plates’ in South Asia and India. In Indonesian cuisine, banana leaves are wrapped around food and then steamed, boiled or grilled, protecting the food while imparting a subtle flavour.
As tropical fruits, bananas don’t care for the chill of the fridge, so it’s best to store them at room temperature where they’ll continue to ripen gradually. If you want to speed things up, simply pop them in a paper bag with an apple.
Bananas are imported into New Zealand year round. They primarily come from Ecuador and the Philippines on two weekly shipping schedules. This means when disruptions in shipping occur there can be a great impact on banana supply. Bananas generally arrive in New Zealand green and are then ripened in specialty facilities.