Banana - history, production, trade

The word banana refers to the fruit of the banana palm tree (Musa acuminata Colla), an evergreen and perennial plant of the family of the Musaceae, which develops in a series of clusters or bunches, whose weight can reach up to 50 kg.
Even though the banana palm is commonly considered a tree, actually it is a giant plant that in nature can become even 10 metres tall, while in the cultivation of bananas reaches only 3 metres of height.
Originally typical from Asia and Africa, bananas usually weigh between 125 and 200 gr and there are great differences of weight between different varieties of bananas cultivated.
80% of the banana fruit is edible, while the rest 20% is formed by the skin of this fruit.
The banana is one of the most consumed fresh fruits worldwide and is very important from a trading point of view, as it is the most important fruit and vegetable product traded (together with coffee) for the Central American countries.
The banana is an excellent food, rich in nutritional substances and ideal as a snack for both adults and children: bananas contain about 74% of water, 23% of carbohydrates, 1% of proteins. 0.5% of fats and 2.6% of fibres. Furthermore, because of its good content of potassium, the banana is recommended to those people suffering from cramps or that are not able to practice sports: with the banana’s flesh, in fact, 15-20% of the daily potassium needs of an adult, useful for the cardiovascular system functioning, is provided.

These components, together with other sugars, give to bananas a great filling power, which helps to keep the digestive system busy during low-calorie diets.Banana’s flesh, in fact, has nutritional and mineralizing properties as it is rich in vitamin A, B1, B2, C, PP and some vitamin E, phosphorus, iron and potassium, sugars and carbohydrates.
The banana contains also the vitamin B6, which enhances the metabolism of proteins. The banana is also relazing, as it enhances the production of serotonin. The banana has only 65 kcal par each fruit, more or less that of an apple or a big slice of watermelon, even though it is wrongly considered a fattening fruit.
The banana, however,  being poor of cellulose, can cause constipation, therefore it is not recommeded to exceed with its consumption. Bananas can be consumed raw or cooked.

Apart from being consumed as a fresh fruit, the banana, still unripe is used in tropical countries as a vegetable and is stewed with meat and fish, boiled or fried; from dried bananas a sweetish flour  is produced, which in many countries is used instead of wheat flour to make bread and cakes. In other countries dried bananas are very widespread, dark brown and with a very intense and typical taste: they are produced drying them in an oven at 80 °C or on a grid at a distance of about 10 cm from embers, which must be weak, so that they do not melt the flesh of bananas.
In the western culture, bananas are used mainly as fresh fruit, or they are sliced and mixed with other fruit to obtain excellent fruit salads. Bananas are also used very often to prepare refreshing milk shakes, to produce yoghurt and in general to produce drinks for children, because of their sweet and sugary taste. Finally, bananas are also used to produce jams: when cooked, in fact, bananas become very dense and it is not necessary to add pectin, the typical ingredient used for other fruit jams.

Apart from fruits, in Bengala’s and Kerala’s cuisine also flowers of the babana tree are used, raw or cooked; in these countries and in Burma the tender heart of the banana trunk is consumed too.
On the international fruit and vegetable market there are countless varieties of bananas, that differ as to colour, size, taste and flesh structure, which can be more or less firm. At first, bananas had lots of seeds in nature, while nowadays traded bananas are seedless varieties, selected in decades by cultivators and by companies produces of bananas.

Bananas can be green (if not completely ripe), intense yellow (ripe), or even yellow with brown stains (when too ripe); moreover, there are red or black cultivars, according to the varieties of bananas cultivated. In general, all bananas of any variety can be eaten, but the more they are ripe, the more they will be sugary and tasty. For example, when buying green bananas, it is recommended not to keep them in the refrigerator to make them become ripe: in an unripe banana, carbohydrates are formed by starches that become sugars during the ripening process. Bananas ripen very well also after being harvested, being this one of the factors that contributed to the spreading of this kind of fresh fruit all over the world. Otherwise, if yellow  bananas or bananas with  brown stains (already ripe and ready to be consumed) are purchased, it would be better to keep them in the refrigerator to avoid their deterioration. On average, a green-yellow banana keeps approximately one week out of the refrigerator, while in the refrigerator it keeps some more days; on the contrary, when bananas are already stained with brown, they must be consumed quickly.
These varieties of bananas traded on the international fruit and vegetable market (Musa acuminate or hybrid Musa paradisiaca) are imported in large quantities from the tropics, where they are available all the yearlong.

The more ripe bananas are, the more digestive they are; a good solution to make a banana perfectly digestive is to slice it in very thin slices and sprinkle few drops of lemon and cane sugar on them.

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