One of the oldest of all cultivated plants, the banana was first introduced in Europe in 1885. Its original home is Asia (India, the Philippines and New Guinea), but it is now grown in South and Central America, Africa and Europe (Canary Islands) as well.
Bananas are classified botanically as berries. The roughly 1,000 species can be divided into two different basic types: plantains (used for cooking) and bananas (consumed raw). Also known as Adams, paradise or pisang figs, the fruits grow on plants that reach heights of up to eight metres and form multiple rows of purple blossoms only once in their lifetime. A “hand” consisting of between 10 and 20 “fingers” develops from each row. The entire cluster may contain as many as 200 bananas and weight up to 50 kilograms.
Bananas contain numerous vitamins (provitamin A, vitamins E, C and the B vitamins) as well as minerals, including potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Rich in fibre, they are very filling. They have the lowest salt content and the highest concentration of potassium of all fruit species.
Bananas can grow to lengths of up to 30 centimetres. They have a relatively thick skin that is yellow and easily removable when the fruit is ripe. The flesh is cream-white to yellow in colour and firm and rich in starch during the early growth phase. Bananas are always harvested while still green, as the actual ripening process (conversion of starch to sugar) does not begin until the fruit is separated from the plant.
The flesh of the banana is soft and sweet. Bananas contain very little acid. These properties make them ideal ingredients in smoothies.