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This banana article is an essential part of my “Tropical Fruit Inspiration Series,” which lists the curious things I found out about some of my fave tropical fruits and vegetation. These plants are an endless source of inspiration in my design, in the kitchen, as well as spiritually. Bananas are the tasty, healthy and easy-to-find dessert fruit.
1. Bananas are radioactive by nature.
Surprise, surprise! Your common bananas are radioactive. They contain the isotopes known as potassium-40, which is a naturally-occurring, unstable isotope. Yes, it is a very small amount, but a truckload of bananas passing through a radiation portal monitor would still trigger a false alarm.
People use a banana equivalent dose (BED) to informally measure the ionizing exposure in comparing the radioactivity dose from eating an average banana. This exposure is somewhere around 1 percent of the average daily exposure to radiation. The half-life of the isotope is 1.25 billion years.
2. Bananas are fruits; plantains are vegetables.
It’s all about how we treat them. The usual bananas you’ll find in your regular fruit markets and supermarkets all throughout the year are smaller and usually bright in color. The term “plantain” is used to refer to any members of the banana family that are used for cooking.
Plantains are starchier versions of bananas that are lower in sugar. They are longer, usually greener and are more thick-skinned. While bananas are eaten as is—like any other fruits—plantains get the vegetable treatment.
They aren’t eaten raw, but instead are cooked as a major staple in West and Central Africa, the Caribbean and some parts of Central America and South America. However, in Southeast Asian countries, where many types of bananas are farmed, this distinction is not commonly recognized; there’s no special word for “cooking bananas.” So if you go around looking for plantains in many parts of Asia, you won’t find them listed anywhere on restaurant menus.
3. Bananas are really berries!
Although they look nothing like the berries we’re used to, bananas are botanically a berry. Modern bananas are seedless and are part of the Musaceae family. These plants are native to Australia and the tropical Indomalaya, including Southeast Asia, South of Asia and the southern apart of East Asia. Grown in 134 countries, bananas are mostly eaten as a fruit, but they are also used to make fibre, wine, beer and as a staple.
4. Bananas float on water.
The bunch might look and feel heavy, yet when you put them in your swimming pool they won’t drown. Their mass is less dense than that of water, so bananas naturally will float. When you first drop them in water they might sink a bit before popping right back up to the surface. But remember, they can’t swim…
5. Bananas have a large role in culture.
Your favourite Andy Warhol print of bananas became the cover artwork of The Velvet Underground’s debut album, “The Velvet Underground & Nico.” Many popular songs include some reference to our fruit: “The Banana Boat Song” by Harry Belafonte (1956), “Yes, We Have No Bananas” by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn (1922), and “Chiquita Banana” by Patti Clayton (1939). It’s also used a lot in children’s songs and stories written for children.
In physical comedy, bananas and banana peels are used frequently. Actors slipping on a banana peel is a common trigger for laughter. We even have a special term “go bananas” which means to go slightly crazy or be silly in fashion. The fruit is among the few that has its own emoji character; the U+1F34C is dedicated to this tropical delicacy.
Banana leaves and flowers are used not only for feeding the hungry, but also in religious ceremonies in India and Thailand. In many countries in Asia, such as Cambodia, Thailand and in Malay folklore, you will uncover stories about ghosts or spirits related to the banana trees.
6. Nothing goes to waste.
Every single part of a banana tree and its fruits can be used for something. Even the banana peel, which is actually edible and rich with vitamins, potassium, and magnesium. You can use the peels to soothe skin irritation, mosquito bites and itching from poisonous plants. The fruits are eaten just like that or are cooked into yummy dishes. The flowers of a banana tree, also known as the hearts of bananas, are used in vegetable soups, curries, and served fried in South and Southeast Asian countries.
The leaves are used as umbrellas when it rains. They are also used as food wraps for ethnic foods that are steamed or grilled. Traditional foods (and drinks) are often served on banana leaves. The trunk is turned into dishes, and the fibres are turned into textiles and paper. Banana wastes are not wasted; they are fed to livestock.
7. Bananas are one of the most popular dessert fruits.
Due to its creamy texture and its distinctive, sweet taste, bananas are a legit alternative to dairy when making ice cream. You’re probably all too familiar with some of these desserts that incorporate bananas one way or another: pancakes, cream cakes, bread, chips, crepes, puddings, cookies, and fritters.
We also have special banana dishes, like the ultimate ice cream dessert banana split, campfire banana boat, and ketchups made from bananas. And that’s not including the traditional ethnic recipes passed on from one generation to the next.
Got no dessert? Just grab some bananas. Even something as simple as a frozen banana is a sure way to make any day feel special.
8. Bananas are nutritious and aid in weight loss.
Like many other tropical fruits, such as pineapples and mangoes, bananas are high in Vitamin C. What makes bananas special is that it has more: Vitamin B6, A, magnesium, and potassium. They are good for controlling cholesterol and blood pressure, and can even enhance a person’s white blood cells. These fruits are high in fibre making it a good choice for weight loss food, because they are filling and reduce cravings.
9. They’re not always yellow.
There are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas worldwide, but not all of them are edible. The common bananas we see in the stores today are the Cavendish, which is bright yellow in color. However, bananas also come in many other colors, including the red banana from Ecuador and Colombia, the Blue Java from Hawaii, which turns blue as they ripe. There are also brown and purple variants of bananas.
10. Banana trees aren’t really trees.
We call them trees, but they are actually large herbs, because they are not woody. Some banana plants can grow really tall up to 40 feet, making it one of the tallest herbs there are. Even the leaves don’t look like any other tree leaves. They are large sheathes with stalks and blades.
11. Bananas help fight depression and more.
They are the only fruit known to contain the amino acid, tryptophan plus Vitamin B6 combination. These help the body produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is also found in anti-depressant such as Prozac. It’s your go-to, au naturel anti-depressant.
So eat a banana if you have troubles sleeping. The B6 found in these fruits are known to help people sleep. Eat a banana when your muscles are too stressed out. The high magnesium in bananas will help your muscles relax.
Need to convince someone to start eating more bananas? Consider showing this article to them—forward it, or share it across social media.