Bananas and plantains are mistaken for one another on a regular basis but they couldn't be more different. They are both in the musa family, but there the similarities stop. Plantains have played an important role in the history of many civilizations, and have been relied upon as a food staple for hundreds of years. Plantains can be found in various tropical areas, and the history of the plantain differs based on where they are located.
Evidence exists to suggest that plantains must have been widespread throughout most of the tropical South and Southeast Asia, and it is widely believed that a civilization of people established themselves in and around Indonesia about 60,000 years ago. These people were also travelers who likely took the plantain with them to Australia and Papua New Guinea. Today, plantains are scarce in Southeast Asia. They were likely obliterated by disease or drought and were never replanted.
It remains a mystery as to how many different strains of plantain arrived in the dense African rain forests, but it is clear that it has been growing there for many thousands of years. The highland natives of Africa tell stories of how their ancestors were a forest-living people who cultivated plantains, and that the plantain became a dietary staple. It is possible that people could have crossed the Indian Ocean to East Africa carrying the necessary materials for planting plantains.
Alexander the Great discovered plantains around 327 B.C., while on his travels to conquer the world. Finding this treasure in the Valley of the Indus River in the southern tip of India, he recognized the nutritional and cultural significance of it and introduced it to Europe.
The rapid expansion of the Bantu people of south and central Africa around 1500 A.D. is based largely on plantain trade. The plantains were traded to the Canary Islands, and from there they were introduced to Santo Domingo in the Caribbean by a Portuguese Franciscan monk around the year 1516.
The New World
As trade and exploration continued, the plantain, along with other goods, were introduced to South and Central American where they were planted and flourished. Plantain farms sprung up and it was realized that significantly more plantains could be harvested in the same amount of area that it would take to produce potatoes or wheat. Following Uganda, Columbia is the second highest producer of plantains in the world, and they remain a cultural and nutritional staple as they did thousands of years ago.
- Photo Credit http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plantains.jpg
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