It’s been said that the banana is the perfect fruit, at least for convenience. It’s attractively packaged in its own brightly colored skin, which serves as a hygienic barrier protecting the sweet, creamy flesh. Bananas are easy to peel, with no inedible seeds, core, or membranes. The fruit can be eaten or used in cooking at various stages of ripeness, and it’s readily available year-round. There’s really no wonder, then, that the banana is the most popular fruit in the US, where consumers eat an estimated 33 pounds per person annually.
The banana is a tropical fruit that needs a hot, humid climate to thrive. It differs from most fruits in that it’s climacteric, meaning it ripens after it’s been picked. Botanically speaking, banana plants are classified as a perennial herb, and the fruit is actually a berry (although they certainly don’t look the part).
There are two main categories of bananas: sweet (eating) bananas and cooking bananas, also called plantains, which have a much higher starch content than the sweet varieties. Among the hundreds of varieties of sweet bananas, the yellow Cavendish is the most common and popular. Some markets, however, now carry dwarf or finger bananas, which are worth seeking out for their sweetness.
How to select and store bananas
Choose plump, evenly colored bananas with undamaged stems and intact skins; contamination could occur if the skin has split. Avoid those with blemishes, bruises or black spots.
Buying green bananas is a safe bet, as they’re less likely to have been damaged during shipping.
You can hasten ripening by placing bananas in a brown paper bag at room temperature for a few days. Otherwise, store them uncovered at room temperature, away from heat or direct sun.
Ripe bananas bruise easily, so always handle them with care. They can be refrigerated for a day or two without damaging the flesh, although the skins will turn black.
If you have too many ripe bananas to use, peel and cut them into slices. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to use. Frozen bananas are great added to smoothies, or thaw and use them in baking.
Tips for using bananas
Bananas can usually be purchased in various stages of ripeness; your best choice depends on when you want to use them, and how you prefer their taste and texture. The riper the banana, the sweeter it is. Bananas with green tips or ridges have a firm, crisp texture and less-sweet taste than perfectly ripe, uniformly yellow bananas. As they continue to ripen, the skin develops brown speckling. Bananas are best for mashing and cooking when they’re very ripe and their skins are covered with brown speckles and mottled areas.
Why choose organic bananas?
Bananas are #35 on the Environmental Working Group's “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” a list of produce that carries the most pesticide residues when grown conventionally. So choosing organic bananas makes good sense — especially for children, whose growing bodies are so much more susceptible to environmental chemical exposures than adults’.
At Earthbound Farm, our bananas are grown without toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, using sustainable farming methods that protect the environment and help keep pesticides out of our soil, air, water and food supply. Organic food is the healthiest choice for people and the planet — and we think organic bananas taste better, too!
WhatsOnMyFood.org from the Pesticide Action Network shows you searchable results for bananas and a wide range of other organic and conventional foods. It’s an easy-to-use and empowering tool for learning about pesticide residues and their health effects for all of us.