Yes, we have some bananas — and not just the kind you slice over cereal.
In recent years, several exotic and unusual varieties of bananas have started cropping up at grocery and specialty stores:
Tiny finger bananas that are no longer than your pinkie; giant Hawaiian bananas that are as big around as your arm; apple bananas that taste a little like a Macintosh; plantains, which usually must be cooked before eating.
Why the banana bonanza?
"The growing ethnic population, a rise in home cooking and consumers being exposed to new fruits and vegetables through the TV Food Network," says Tristan Millar, director of marketing and business development for Frieda’s Inc., a specialty produce company in California.
She says Frieda’s has been selling and marketing specialty bananas for years, including the red banana, which made its debut in 1973. But many of the other unusual varieties began showing up only in the past five years.
"It’s not so much that they have just appeared recently. It’s that the awareness of them has grown," she says.
Plantains are probably the most widely available specialty banana, and are usually easy to find at almost any grocery store. Other exotic bananas tend to make only sporadic appearances at supermarkets, but they usually can be found at Latino and specialty markets. Or, they can be ordered online at
Once you find them, you can use them in cooking.
"Use them in recipes just like you would regular bananas," Millar says.
David Woods, author of "Cooking with Bananas," thinks most exotic varieties are best eaten raw, and prefers to cook with the less expensive, garden-variety banana.
The one exception to the "eat them raw" advice is the plantain.
"Green and yellow plantains are used more as a vegetable and must be cooked," Millar says. "Add them to soups or stews or slice them and fry to make chips.
"The only way to eat them rawiswhen they are very ripe and turn completely black."
Cooked or raw, bananas have a readymade fan base in the United States. They are the third-most-popular fruit in U.S. markets, ranking just behind apples and oranges.
"Bananas are one of our nation’s most popular fruit, with 98 percent of all American households buying them regularly," Woods says. That translates into more than 20 pounds of the fruit winding up in the average U.S. home each year.
Yet, except for small Hawaii and Florida crops, the U.S. supply is imported, primarily from Central America. Bananas, after all, thrive in tropical climates and are grown in practically all tropical areas of the world.
No surprise, then, that bananas play a big role in the cuisines of tropical countries, according to www.ba nana.com. Banana fritters are a favorite dish in the Caribbean. Chunks of bananas are dipped in a rich, rum-flavored batter and fried, then served hot with a dusting of powdered sugar.
In India you’ll find a dish called Panchamrutham, a spicy confection sweetened with honey. Sweet Banana Lassi, a refreshing cold drink made of yogurt and banana, is popular in India, too.
The Brazilians make a dessert of mashed bananas mixed with brown sugar, grated ginger and cinnamon or cloves. The mixture is cooked until thick, cooled, molded into a roll, sliced and served cold.
In his book, Woods uses basic bananas in a variety of easy recipes, including Banana Turkey Loaf, Frozen Chocolate Bananas, Pot Roast with Bananas and Tropical Fruit Pizza.
He advises eating a lot of bananas because of their nutritional value.
"They are almost a perfect food," he says. "All varieties are low in calories and sodium, and high in potassium and fiber. Bananas should be eaten daily."
What else can we say? They come packaged in their own portable container. They’re easy to digest. They’re a healthy wayto make meals more nourishing. And now there are so many more varieties from which to choose that you can eat a different type almost every day.
No wonder they have appeal.
How to store
Store underripe bananas uncovered at room temperature. To ripen them quickly, put them in a paper bag with an apple and close the bag. The apple will produce ethylene gas, which speeds ripening. To delay ripening, place the bananas in the vegetable crisper. The peel will turn brown from the cold, but the fruit will be fine. If you have too many ripe bananas, freeze them unpeeled and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. They are terrific when eaten frozen or used to make banana bread and smoothies. Aflecking of tiny brown spots is an indicator of ripeness. The riper the banana, the easier it is for them to bruise and turn black. Simply cut away the bruised area and use the rest of the fruit.
How to cook
Choose bananas that are slightly underripe and firm. To grill, peel the bananas and split lengthwise. Brush with vegetable oil or spray with cooking spray and grill about 3 minutes on each side over direct heat.
When making fruit salads, toss sliced bananas with a little lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.
1 pound of bananas will yield about 2 cups of sliced fruit or 1 1/3 cups mashed.
Source: Master chef Jimmy Gherardi of Cincinnati