Bananas: All That Potassium And Carmen Miranda Too!
"…We have old-fashioned tomahto, Long Island potahto, but Yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today.."- Folk song by Frank Silver and Irving Cohen (1923)
Whether you are off to Rio following colorful trail of Carmen Miranda’s fruit-filled hat or seated on your couch contemplating universe, banana can always come along for ride. There are so many aspects to this strange and wonderful fruit. Even its shape is a bit mysterious; conjuring images of tropical islands and sun-filled days. Did you know that word "banana" originates from Arabic and means finger? Doesn’t that make you wonder where rest of hand is? I have been hooked on bananas ever since I was a child, and Miss Chiquita, drawn by Dik Brown who also created Campbell kids, used to sing to me through television in my parents’ living room. (I always wondered why she never had her own show. She was so much cuter than Ed Sullivan.) You remember her words:
I’m Chiquita Banana and I’m here to say
Bananas need to ripen in a special way
When they are flecked with brown and have a golden hue
Bananas taste best and are best for you.
The banana is so popular in America today that four million tons of them are imported every year. Not to compare apples to oranges, but rather apples to bananas, a banana has less water, fifty percent more food energy, four times protein, half fat, twice carbohydrate, almost three times phosphorus, five times Vitamin C and iron and at least twice other vitamins and minerals as a single apple! The average American eats 33 pounds of bananas a year. An excellent source of potassium and carbohydrates, they can be eaten any time of day because of their digestive properties. Natural sugar provides energy for those sports requiring endurance and low proportions of sodium chloridium render a good recommendation for salt free diets.
That’s all quite impressive, I know, but where did banana come from in first place? Did it arrive as a conundrum along with chicken or egg, or did both of them precede it? Buddhist texts from 600bc mention banana for first time in history. Alexander The Great tasted bananas in Indus Valley in 327bc and in his day they were called pala. China records presence of banana plantations as far back as 200ad (way before birth of Scarlet O’Hara). In 650 ad Islamic conquerors brought bananas back to Palestine and through trade spread them all over Africa. They were unknown to New World until 1516 when first root stocks were brought here by Spanish missionary, Father Tomas de Berlanger.
So much for traveling. How do they grow? The whole matter is extremely confusing. The banana tree itself (even though it is not a tree but a giant plant) is by definition an herb. What is an herb? Without passing go or collecting $200, answer is a flowering plant with a fleshy, rather than woody, stem. Each stem consists of ten to fourteen hands, each carrying from eighteen to twenty bananas. The stem, however is a false one, formed by tightly wrapped overlapping leaves, resembling stalks of celery. The plant belongs to same family as lilies, orchids and palms and fruit is a berry. By definition, a berry is a simple fruit having a skin surrounding one or more seeds in a fleshy pulp. A banana cut lengthwise will reveal very tiny black seeds within its center. Therefore, a banana is a fruit, herb, berry and plant all at same time. The expression "going bananas" probably came into vogue during time all of these terms were being defined, don’t you think?