The banana has a thousand sisters

A banana is a banana, I thought before I came to Ecuador. Sure, I had heard of the ”food banana”, that isn’t sweet, but other than that I assumed all bananas are like the ones we buy in Europe.

But according to UNCTAD there are over a 1000 varieties of bananas in the world, divided into 50 subgroups. All belong to the family Musacea, all are rectangular and all can be peeled by hand (i think!). But that’s where the similarities end. There are broad, thin, small, big, yellow, green, red, sweet and non-sweet ones.

The variety exported to Europe and the USA is called Cavendish. There are several varieties of Cavendish as well. In Asoguabo, the varieties Filipino and Williams are grown as well. They taste the same but differ in size and plant characteristics. Have you ever thought the banana is bigger than usual? Then you might be holding a Filipino.

And then there’s the banana that tastes a lot better than the Cavendish we eat. It’s sweeter, softer and more yellow. It’s called Seda (silk in Spanish) or Gros Michel. It looks the same as the Cavendish, and it’s the variety we bought in the North until the 1960’s. Then the producers switched to the resistant Cavendish, because the Panama disease (a fungus invading the plant roots) distroyed the Gros Michel-plants. But the Gros Michel is still grown in Ecuador, and when I buy bananas, I only buy that kind.

Plantains are a staple food in Ecuador. They can be cooked when they're green or when they've turned yellow and taste sweeter.

Plantains are a staple food in Ecuador. They can be cooked when they're green or when they've turned yellow and taste sweeter.

The export bananas are all so called dessert bananas. In the countries where the bananas grow, the plantain is much, much more important. Its’s a staple food, as important as rice and more important than potatoes. You can’t eat it raw. That would be like eating a raw potato. But in most other ways it’s edible. Boiled, fried, roasted, grilled, mashed, raw, ripe… And always as good. It’s hard to find a typical Ecuadorian plate without bananas.

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