Bananas 101 – The Basics
Bananas are believed to have originated about 4,000 years ago in Malaysia. From there, they were slowly introduced around the world and grown in warm climates in the Philippines, India, and Africa.
Bananas were eventually brought to the United States in the late 19th century and were enjoyed by people living in coastal towns. Eventually refrigerated transport systems were developed in the 20th century, and bananas have since been transported around the United States where they are enjoyed by everyone. Today, bananas are grown in most tropical and subtropical areas with the main producers being Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, and Brazil.
Nutrition and Health Benefits of Bananas
Bananas are a good source of Vitamin B6, manganese, Vitamin C, potassium, fiber, biotin, and copper. One medium banana has about 100 calories.
Reduce Heart Disease Risk. Bananas are well known for their potassium content. This mineral is important for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. With one medium banana having around 400 mg of potassium, including them in your diet on a regular basis helps to prevent high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
While bananas are very low in fat, they do contain sterols, which are similar in structure to cholesterol. When bananas are eaten with a cholesterol-containing meal, the sterols in bananas block the absorption of cholesterol from other foods in the meal. This effect can help to keep our cholesterol levels in check.
Furthermore, bananas have a small amount of soluble fiber, about 1 gram per medium size banana. Soluble fiber binds with bile in the digestive tract, removing it in the feces. This forces the body to make more bile from existing cholesterol. This effect also helps to lower blood cholesterol levels.
Low Glycemic Index. Despite their sugar content, bananas have a low glycemic index. In addition to their soluble fiber, bananas also contain pectin, another type of fiber. The amount of pectin in a banana increases along with the sugar content as the banana ripens. The increase in pectin further helps to stabilize the blood sugar effect when the banana is eaten. So, despite the fact that ripe bananas do contain a fair amount of naturally-occurring sugars, their fiber and pectin content counteract the effects of sugars, stabilizing blood sugars, keeping their glycemic effect low.
GI Track Health. If that’s not enough, the carbohydrates in bananas (fructooligosaccharides) are not typically broken down by enzymes in the digestive tract. Instead, in the lower bowel, they are digested by bacteria. This helps to maintain the colony of friendly bacteria in our colon, which is vitally important for health. One research study found that those who ate two bananas a day for two months had increased numbers of Bifidobacteria, fewer gastrointestinal problems, and more regular bowel movements than those who did not eat the bananas.
Endurance. Bananas have long been a favorite food among endurance athletes, such as long-distance cyclists. Their portability, low expense, and flavor make them easy to transport and eat along the way. The mix of vitamins, minerals, and low glycemic carbohydrates has been found to be just as effective as sports beverages in keeping energy levels stable and preventing muscle cramps.
How to Select Bananas
When buying bananas, choose ones that are firm and without bruises. Look for ones that are green near both ends. If you want to keep bananas longer, opt for ones that are more green than yellow, since they will take a little longer to ripen up.
Bananas with yellow peels are best for eating fresh, whether it’s from the peel or cut into salads. Ripe bananas, like those with speckles, are best for being used in baked goods and smoothies.
How to Store Bananas
Bananas should be left at room temperature to ripen. They should not be kept in overly hot or cold temperatures. Do not put unripe bananas in the refrigerator. Such cold temperatures will prevent them from ripening, even when taken out of the refrigerator. To extend the shelf life of ripe bananas, they may be stored in the refrigerator and should be used within 5 to 7 days. The peels will turn black when stored in the refrigerator, but the banana flesh will be fine.
Bananas are more fragile than they appear. A large bunch of bananas is rather heavy. When stored on the counter or in a fruit bowl, the bananas on the bottom may tend to bruise on the areas where they rest, due to the weight they are supporting. A banana hanger can alleviate that problem. Simply place your freshly purchased bananas on a banana hanger when you get them home and they will slowly ripen as expected without the added bruising from the weight of the bunch. Try it and you’ll see!
Another trick to help slow down banana ripening is to wrap the top end of the bunch with plastic wrap when you first bring the bananas home. The stem end is where their ethylene gas is released. That gas promotes ripening. By covering the end with plastic, the release of the ethylene gas will be slowed down, helping to deter the ripening process. Bear in mind that nothing will keep bananas forever, but these tactics can help to slow the ripening process, extending the shelf life. For the longest life of bananas, peel them, and freeze them in an airtight container.
To speed up the ripening process, place your bananas in a paper bag or wrap them in newspaper. Adding an apple will speed up the process. Ripe bananas may be placed in the refrigerator to keep them from further ripening. Their peel will turn black in the refrigerator, but the flesh will not be affected. For best flavor, remove bananas from the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature before eating them.
How to Preserve Bananas
Whole bananas may be frozen. Simply remove the peel and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and/or place them in an airtight container in the freezer. Frozen bananas will keep for 2 to 3 months. They will be edible beyond that, but the quality may decline. To help prevent them from turning dark during the freezing process, simply coat them with a little lemon or orange juice before being frozen.
Bananas may also be pureed first before being frozen. To prevent discoloration, add some lemon or orange juice to them first. Blending them first with another fruit, like berries will also help to deter discoloration.
Bananas may also be frozen with the peel still intact. Simply place them in a freezer bag or container and store them in the freezer. To remove the peel from frozen bananas, briefly run them under water to slightly soften the peel, then remove the peel with a knife. Or, you could simply allow them to warm up at room temperature for about 10 or 15 minutes, then remove the peel with a knife, if needed.
Bananas may also be dried. First, peel your bananas and slice them thinly. Then dip the banana slices in an acidic juice, such as lemon or orange juice. Other juices may also be used, such as cranberry juice, cherry juice or others. The acidity is what counts here, to keep the bananas from turning dark in the drying process. If you have a dehydrator, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for time and temperature for drying your bananas. If you don’t have a dehydrator, simply lay the treated banana slices on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake them at a low temperature, anywhere from 200°F to 250°F until they are completely dry. Flip them over a time or two to allow them to completely dry throughout. This process may take an hour or two, so monitor them as they bake, and be sure they are completely dry before removing them from the oven. The exact time will depend on the oven temperature and the thickness of the banana slices. Store the cooled slices in an airtight container. They may be kept at room temperature, but should keep longer when stored in the refrigerator. Dried bananas will generally keep for 6 to 12 months in the refrigerator, and up to 18 months in the freezer.
Dried vs Fresh
Most of the weight of bananas comes from their high water content. When dehydrated, their nutrient content and calories are concentrated. The exception is in their Vitamin C content, which is about 20 percent lower in dehydrated bananas than fresh. Since they are concentrated, the standard serving size is ¼ cup of dried bananas. So, it may be wise to allocate your portion in a bowl or cup, and put the rest away before enjoying your snack. Simply eating from “bag to mouth” could easily lead to overeating dried bananas and consuming way more than you realize.
Read ingredient labels carefully when buying dried bananas. Those sold as “banana chips” are actually fried. Their ingredients label will reflect that, listing bananas, oil (of some type), sugar, and possibly artificial flavoring. Banana chips are much higher in calories than fresh bananas or even dehydrated bananas, and since they were fried, they should not be considered to be a healthy alternative to fresh bananas.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Bananas
* Make your own banana pops with ripe bananas. Peel and cut them in half, across the middle. Insert a popsicle stick in the flat, cut end. Lay them on a tray and place them in the freezer. When frozen they are ready to enjoy. To embellish your banana pops, you could dip them in melted chocolate, butterscotch, caramel, or any favorite ice cream sauce. If desired, sprinkle them or roll them in chopped nuts or ice cream sprinkles. Return them to the freezer then enjoy when everything is frozen. Wrap extras up in an airtight container and store in the freezer (IF there’s any left!).
* Use a banana peel to shine leather shoes. Peel the banana, then remove any strings still attached to the inside of the peel. Then rub the inside of the peel on leather shoes to shine them up. Buff them with a clean cloth. Done!
* If you want to attract butterflies and birds to your yard, put peeled and sliced overripe bananas on an elevated perch in your yard. Other ripe fruit (such as mangoes and oranges) can also be added. The fruit may also attract bees and wasps, so be mindful of that when putting up your perch.
* The inside of a banana peel can be used to sooth insect bites, sunburn, minor scrapes, and poison ivy. Simply press the inside of a peel onto the area like you would a cool compress.
* To speed up ripening an avocado, place a banana in a paper bag with the avocado. The ethylene gas released by the banana will hasten the ripening of the avocado.
* When making banana bread, the blacker the peel of the banana, the better the banana flavor will be in the finished bread.
* If you want to slow down the ripening of your bananas, place them in the refrigerator. The peels will turn black, but the fruit will stay fresh. Bananas may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
* To speed up the ripening process of bananas, place them in a paper bag in a dry spot away from sunlight. After a day or two they should start ripening. If not, place an apple in the bag with the unripe bananas.
* Try an all-time favorite peanut butter and banana sandwich. Drizzle with honey for added sweetness.
* Add sliced banana, walnuts, and a drizzle of maple syrup to your breakfast oatmeal.
* To slow banana ripening, when you first bring your bananas home from the store, wrap the bunch top (where the bananas are all joined together) with plastic wrap. This will help to prevent the release of their ethylene gas which causes them to ripen. If you want to take this one step further, you could separate all the bananas and wrap the stem top of each banana individually. This will not make them last forever, but it will slow the ripening process.
* For a quick and healthy dessert, make banana “nice cream.” Place a frozen banana in a food processor or blender. Add a tablespoon or two of liquid (such as water, milk of choice, or coconut water). Blend until smooth and enjoy! More or less liquid can be added, if desired. Or it can be left out entirely. Also, banana nice cream can be flavored in many ways. For instance, add unsweetened cocoa powder, nut or seed butter, a sprinkle of vanilla extract, cinnamon, or frozen berries of choice. It doesn’t take a lot of additives to flavor your nice cream, so add a little, blend, then taste it. Add more if desired.
* When you slice bananas for a fruit salad, toss them with a little bit of an acidic liquid to keep them from turning brown. A little lemon or lime juice, orange juice, or even mild-flavored vinegar will do the trick. If an acidic juice won’t go with your salad, I have also had success by coating banana slices with a little oat or coconut milk.
* Mashed banana can be used as a substitute for fat in muffins and other quick breads. The substitution rate is 1:1 (replace fat in the recipe with an equal part of mashed banana). Note that the banana may cause the product to bake faster, so watch it carefully as it bakes. It may be finished a few minutes early. You could reduce the oven temperature by 25°F to keep the product from baking too fast. Also, bananas will add some sweetness to the quick bread, so the amount of sugar may need to be reduced by one-fourth up to one-half, depending upon the recipe. Make a small batch to test it out first.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Bananas
Cardamom, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, curry powder, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla
Foods That Go Well with Bananas
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, bacon, cashews, chicken, flax seeds, ham, macadamia nuts, nuts (in general), nut butter, peanuts, pecans, pork, sausage, sunflower seeds, walnuts
Vegetables: Chiles, onions, sweet potatoes
Fruits: Apples and apple juice, apricots, berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), cherries, coconut, dates, figs, lemon, lime, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, pears, pineapple, raisins, tamarind, tropical fruit (in general)
Grains and Grain Products: Bread, malt, oats and oatmeal, toast
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese (cream, ricotta), coconut milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Agave nectar, bourbon, caramel, chocolate, cognac, honey, oil, rum, sugar
Bananas have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e. breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, quick breads), cereals (breakfast), French toast, granola, lassis, pancakes, salads (fruit), smoothies
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Bananas
Combine bananas with any of the following combinations…
Almond milk + nutmeg + vanilla
Almonds + oatmeal
Apple juice + cinnamon
Apricots + yogurt
Blueberries + yogurt
Cashews + pineapple
Chocolate + peanuts
Cinnamon + orange
Citrus + coconut
Coconut + pineapple + sesame seeds
Dates + flax seeds
Honey + peanut butter
Maple syrup + oatmeal
Oranges + papaya
Peaches + raspberries
Pineapple + sesame seeds
30 Ripe Banana Recipes to Use Up Your Bunch https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/recipes-for-ripe-bananas/
22 Recipes for Ripe and Overripe Bananas https://www.forksoverknives.com/recipes/vegan-menus-collections/banana-recipes-ways-to-use-ripe-overripe-bananas/
Over 66 Recipes Using Overripe Bananas https://www.crazyforcrust.com/66-recipes-using-overripe-bananas/
35 Ways to Use Overripe Bananas That Aren’t Banana Bread https://www.myrecipes.com/ingredients/fruit-recipes/overripe-banana-recipes-besides-bread
15 Ways to Use Ripe Bananas That Aren’t Banana Bread https://www.allrecipes.com/gallery/ripe-banana-recipes/
22 Recipes for Ripe and Overripe Bananas https://www.forksoverknives.com/recipes/vegan-menus-collections/banana-recipes-ways-to-use-ripe-overripe-bananas/
Chocolate Chip Banana Bars https://butterwithasideofbread.com/chocolate-chip-banana-bars/
17 Amazing Ways to Eat A Banana https://www.eatthis.com/banana-cooking-tips/
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.