More than 96 percent of U.S. households buy bananas every month, but half a century ago, a fungus wiped out a species larger and more flavorful than today's bananas. Learning the different kinds of bananas available makes it easier to adapt if a similar epidemic destroys the current popular species. Many stores carry lesser-known types of bananas that feature individual flavors, uses and nutritional benefits.
Also known as “Big Mike,” the Gros Michel was once the most common type of banana consumed in the United States. Gros Michel bananas were larger than modern bananas and many people considered them to have an even better flavor. In the early 1900s, a fungus known as Panama disease began to spread among Gros Michel crops. By 1960, the disease caused growing Gros Michel bananas to become unprofitable, and a species resistant to the fungus took the Gros Michel’s place.
Cavendish bananas replaced the Gros Michel in stores and continue to dominate the market more than 50 years later. They feature a distinct sweet flavor. Most Cavendish bananas found in stores are still green but will ripen as they turn bright yellow. Panama disease Race 4, a fungus found in Australia and Southeast Asia, threatens to destroy Cavendish bananas like the original Panama disease wiped out the Gros Michel.
Cooking plantain bananas before consumption is necessary because the fruit has an unpleasant flavor when eaten raw. Plantains have more starch and less sugar than Cavendish bananas. These traits allow substitution of plantains in Caribbean dishes that would normally contain potatoes or pasta. The peel of a plantain banana starts with a green color that becomes almost black when ripe. The flesh inside is light yellow or pink.
Nutritional benefits are a main feature of red bananas. Along with the potassium and fiber found in yellow bananas, the red variety has increased levels of vitamins C and B6. The flavor is sweet like Cavendish bananas, but the texture is more dense and creamy. Ripe red bananas have maroon or purple skin with pink or orange flesh.
The Ice Cream banana is longer than yellow bananas, with a length of 7 to 9 inches. The flavor is very sweet and the flesh has a strong smell. Ice Cream bananas have a creamy texture. When eaten, the soft texture of the banana is similar to the ice cream of its namesake. “Blue Java” is its alternate name due to the blue tint of the banana’s skin.
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