Banana is known as the poor man's food or fruit, because it is a part of the common man's diet and also contains important nutrients. It is also considered to be exotic for people living in cold countries, because it is basically a tropical fruit. It is the fruit of a herbaceous plant (not a tree) related to the orchid family. This relatively inexpensive and delicious fruit (which is sometimes taken for granted) was not as easily available everywhere in the past as it is today. There is a glorious history behind this everyday fruit, and its easy availability is the result of the efforts of the people who learned how to cultivate and export it.
Interesting Historical Facts
- It is said to have originated in Southeast Asia and Malaysia. The name 'banana' is derived from its Guinean name 'banema'. This fruit has traversed a long way from the jungles of Southeast Asia and Malaysia to become one of the most popular fruits of the world.
- Experts are of the opinion that it was the first fruit cultivated by human beings and preceded the cultivation of rice. It is believed that the first domestication of this fruit took place in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
- The earliest written evidence about the existence of bananas was found in the Buddhist Pali writings of the 6th century BCE, which indicates that they had reached India by then. They were also mentioned in many ancient scriptures of Hindu, Chinese, Islamic, Greek, and Roman religions.
- However, these fruits found in ancient times were red and green in color. The sweet banana available today is actually a mutant strain that was discovered in 1836 by Jean Francois Poujot of Jamaica in his plantation.
- The red and green cooking variety of bananas is termed as the 'plantain' from the Spanish word 'platano', as it resembled one of their trees known as plane tree! Interestingly, the word 'banan' in Arabic means 'finger' suggesting that the bananas available then were of a smaller variety.
- In 327 BCE, Alexander and his armies discovered the banana during one of their campaigns in India and introduced this delicious fruit to the western world, particularly to the Mediterranean countries. Then, with the help of Islamic conquerors it had reached Madagascar and Palestine.
- Bananas then traveled with the Portuguese sailors and arrived in Europe from West Africa in the early 15th century. In 1482, it was carried by the Portuguese explorers to Canary Island and West Indies. The credit for introducing this fruit in the Caribbean and America also goes to the Portuguese and Spanish explorers.
- China was the first country where the cultivation of bananas was carried out in an organized manner. Evidence of its cultivation was also found in the Roman empire during 63 to 14 BCE. Antonio Musa, the physician of Roman emperor Octavius Augustine, was the man behind encouraging its cultivation in the Roman empire.
- It was a complete stranger to the USA till 1870. It was introduced to the American society almost at the same time by two individuals separately, namely, Lorenzo Dow Baker and Minor Keith.
- Lorenzo was a sea captain who reached Jamaica in his schooner and observed a peculiar yellow fruit in the market. Out of curiosity, he bought some unripe bunches of the fruit. He brought them to America and sold them in the fruit market of New Jersey.
- At the same time, Minor Keithm, who was constructing a rail road in Costa Rica, planted banana trees near the railway track. When the construction of the rail road was completed, these fruits were transported to the port by train, and then, exported to America. Soon, bananas became a popular food in U.S.
- The marketing potential of banana was discovered in 1870 by American and European businessmen. They thought about exporting the fruit and established companies for its plantation. Gradually, an entire industry had emerged in the Central and South America for plantation and export of this fruit. United Fruit Company was the first to start their commercial production.
- Today, the banana is one of the most sought-after fruits in the world. It is cultivated in more than 170 countries and plays an important role in the economy of developing countries. It is low in calories and fat, high in vitamin B6, and easy to digest.
- It also contains fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium, therefore, referred to as a holistic food. They can be very effective for patients suffering from anemia, blood pressure, constipation, depression, heartburn, stress, ulcers in the intestine, etc. They are also found to be beneficial in enhancing brain power.
They can be eaten raw, fried, roasted, baked, mashed, or broiled and can be used in various sweet dishes, like puddings, desserts, pies, and custards. No matter in what way you consume them, they are sure to help you remain healthy and fit. So, go ahead and go bananas!