Bananas and Plantains

Will C McClatchey. Cambridge World History of Food. Editor: Kenneth F Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas. Volume 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Bananas represent one of the most important fruit crops, second only to grapes in the volume of world production (Purseglove 1988). J. F. Morton (1987) indicates that bananas are the fourth largest fruit crop after grapes, citrus fruits, and apples. Bananas and plantains are starchy berries produced by hybrids and/or sports of Musa acuminata Colla and Musa balbisiana. Rare genome contributions from another species may have occurred but are not yet well documented (Simmonds 1986). Additionally, fe’i bananas are obtained from Musa troglodytarum. Bananas may be differentiated from plantains on the basis of moisture content, with bananas generally averaging 83 percent moisture and plantains 65 percent (but intermediate examples may also be found) (Lessard 1992). Bananas may be eaten raw or cooked. Plantains are usually eaten cooked. Commonly, bananas which are eaten raw are referred to as dessert bananas. Throughout this essay, the term “bananas” is used to refer to both bananas and plantains.

Bananas, being primarily carbohydrates (22.2 to 31.2 percent), are low in fats, cholesterol, and sodium. Potassium levels are high (400 milligrams to 100 grams of pulp). Bananas are also good sources of ascorbic acid, 100 grams providing 13.3 to 26.7 percent of the U.S. RDA (Stover and Simmonds 1987). During ripening, the starch component is gradually converted to simple sugars (fructose, glucose, and sucrose), while the moisture content of the pulp increases. The time of conversion to simple sugars can also be used to differentiate plantains/cooking bananas (later conversion) from bananas that are eaten raw (earlier conversion).

Banana Plants

Bananas are monocarpic (fruiting once, then dying), perennial, giant herbs that usually are propagated via lateral shoots (suckers). Leaves are produced by a single apical meristem, which typically forms only a low short stem or pseudobulb. The leaves are tightly rolled around each other, producing a pseudostem with a heart of young, emerging, rolled leaves ending with the terminal production of a huge inflorescence (usually sterile) and, finally, the starchy fruits: bananas or plantains.

Banana suckers emerge from axillary buds on the pseudobulb, thus providing a means of propagation as the fruits are commonly sterile. Suckers are either left in place as a part of a “mat,” which includes the parent plant, or they may be removed for planting at new sites. Within a year after a sucker has been planted at a new site, the flowering stem will emerge at the apex of the pseudostem. The flowering stem will gradually bend over, producing a pendulous inflorescence (except in fe’i bananas, which have an erect inflorescence).

At the apical end of the stem are sterile male flowers, protected by large, often reddish, bracts (reduced or modified leaves). Higher up the stem are rows of biseriately (in two series) arranged female (or hermaphroditic) flowers (Masefield et al. 1971). The banana fruits developing from the rows of flowers are commonly called “hands,” with the individual fruits called “fingers” (Stover and Simmonds 1987). The entire inflorescence, having matured as fruit, may be called a “bunch.”

Climate and Soil

Bananas are almost entirely restricted to largely tropical wet zones of the earth. Practically all banana cultivations fall within 30° latitude north and south of the equator (Simmonds 1966), with most of the large growing areas in the tropics between 20° north and south latitude. Bananas are very susceptible to cold temperatures and to drying environments. Their growth is limited by temperature in areas where water is not limited and by water availability in the warmest climates. A mean monthly temperature of 27° C is optimal, with temperatures below 21° C causing delayed growth (Purseglove 1988). Bananas are found growing under optimal conditions in wet or humid tropics when there are at least eight months per year with a minimum of 75 millimeters of rain per month (Stover and Simmonds 1987). Bananas also grow best under intense sunlight, with shading causing delayed growth, although the fruits may be sunburned, turning black, if exposed to excessive radiation.

Bananas will grow, and even produce fruit, under very poor conditions but will not produce an economically viable crop unless planted in relatively deep, well-drained soil (Morton 1987). Bananas can grow on loam, rocky sand, marl, volcanic ash, sandy clay, and even heavy clay, as long as water is not excessively retained in the soil matrix. Well drained, slightly acidic alluvial soils of river valleys offer optimal edaphic conditions.

General Uses

As already mentioned, banana and plantain fruits may be either cooked or eaten raw. The major usage of bananas is as a starch source for local consumption by tropical traditional cultures. Banana starch may be consumed in a variety of products (see the section on Cultural Uses), with the bulk of the consumption consisting of very simple sugars mixed with fibers. The fruits represent significant exports from developing countries, particularly in the Neotropics. Bananas are very susceptible to damage during storage and shipping, which has certainly limited their value as foods imported into temperate, industrialized nations.

Where bananas are locally grown, the nonfruit parts of the plants are employed for a variety of purposes. Banana leaves are commonly used in addition to the fruits, with some varieties producing more desirable leaves than fruits. Fresh banana leaves serve as wrapping material for steamed or cooked foods and also as disposable meal platters. Fresh leaves are used medicinally in Rotuma, Samoa, and Fiji for the treatment of a variety of disorders, including headaches, menstrual cramps, and urinary tract infections. Young, unfolded leaves are employed as topical remedies for chest ailments, and the stem juice is used to treat gonorrhea (Uphof 1968).

Juice from fresh banana leaves occasionally serves as a light brown dye or stain. Because of their 30 to 40 percent tannin content, dried banana peels are used to blacken leather (Morton 1987). Dried leaves may be woven as house screens or be a source of fibrous strings for simple weaving or short-term structure construction. Dried leaves may also be employed to absorb salt water for transport to distant locations, where they are burned to produce a salty ash seasoning. Dried green plantains, ground fine and roasted, have reportedly served as a substitute for coffee (Morton 1987), and banana leaves have even been rolled as cigarette wrappers.

Of growing importance is the use of banana plants and fruits in livestock feed (Stover and Simmonds 1987; Purseglove 1988; Babatunde 1992; Cheeke 1992; Fomunyam 1992) and in shading or intercropping with yams, maize, cocoa, coconuts, areca nuts, and coffee (Stover and Simmonds 1987; Swennen 1990). Livestock are fed either dried and crushed fruits or fresh waste fruits and pseudostems with the leaves. Pigs, cattle, and rabbits have all been fed experimentally with mixtures of bananas and banana waste products. When used for intercropping or shading, bananas serve mainly as shade from intense sunlight for the crop of primary interest, but they also provide an intermediate crop while the farmer is waiting for production of his primary crop: cocoa, coconuts, areca nuts, or coffee.

Leaves of the related species M. textilis Nee have been used in and exported from the Philippines as a fiber source in the form of abaca. The abaca fiber is applied to the production of ropes, twines, hats, mats, hammocks, and other products requiring hard, strong fibers (Brown 1951; Purse-glove 1988).

Biology

More than 500 varieties of bananas are recognized worldwide, although many of these are probably closely related lineages with differing regional names. Extensive research into the genetics, taxonomy, propagation, and distribution of bananas has been carried out by N. W. Simmonds (1957; 1962) and R. H. Stover (Stover and Simmonds 1987).

Taxonomy

Bananas and plantains have been taxonomically referenced by many different scientific names, including Musa paradisiaca L., M. corniculata Lour., M. nana Lour., and M. sapientum L. Each of these names is misleading, giving reference to a variety or group of varieties within a hybrid complex of extensively cultivated clones arising from M. acuminata Colla and M. balbisiana Colla. Simmonds (1962) suggested that the Latin binomials previously mentioned should all be abandoned and replaced by a designation of the clonal lineage represented by the ploidy (chromosome repetition number) and relative contributions of each of the diploid parent species.

The lineages are represented as groups of varieties/clones that share common ploidy levels and relative proportions of ancestral features (M. acuminata represented by “A” and M. balbisiana by “B”). Simmonds developed a system of scoring each variety on the basis of 15 characters, noting those characters present from the “A” and “B” parents. Additionally, many nonancestral (derived) somatic mutations have been identified, and these can be employed to differentiate the lineages of hybrids/autopolyploids (Stover and Simmonds 1987). It is possible that future systematic studies of bananas will use these ancestral and derived features as plesiomorphic (ancestral) and apomorphic (unique or derived) characters in cladistic and phenetic determinations of the relationships of banana cultivars.

Simmonds’s designations are applied as follows for the common bananas with some examples of varieties within each group:

  • Group AA: Varieties ‘Nino’, ‘Paka’, ‘Pisang lin’, ‘Sucrier’, and ‘Thousand Fingers’. These are primitive diploids found in Malesia, New Guinea, the Philippines, and East Africa.
  • Group AB: Varieties ‘Ney Poovan’ and some ‘Lady’s Fingers’.These diploid hybrids from India are of minor importance.
  • Group AAA: Varieties ‘Cavendish’, ‘Dwarf Cavendish’, ‘Gros Michel’, ‘Highgate’, and ‘Robusta’.These varieties consist of African and Malesian triploids, which were important in the initial development of the commercial banana trade (mainly ‘Gros Michel’), and remain important in much of the present trade (‘Dwarf Cavendish’).
  • Group AAB: Varieties ‘Ae Ae’, ‘Apple’, ‘Brazilian’, ‘Giant Plantains’, ‘Hua Moa’, ‘Red holene’, and ‘Rhino horn’.These are triploids producing the lower moisture content fruits generally called plantains, which were initially developed in southern India.
  • Group ABB: Varieties ‘ce Cream’, ‘Kru’, ‘Orinco’, and ‘Praying Hands’. These are triploids originating in India, the Philippines, and New Guinea. They are important staples in Southeast Asia, Samoa, and parts of Africa (Purseglove 1988).

Additionally, tetraploid (4 times the base chromosome number) hybrids AAAA, ABBB, AAAB, and AABB have also been produced, but these are presently of little importance. They may, however, become important in the future (Purseglove 1988).

Fe’i bananas (Musa troglodytarum L.) differ from other common edible bananas in that they are diploids with erect inflorescences, have red-orange juice, and are not derived from hybrids of sports of M. acuminata or M. balbisiana. Fe’ibananas are prepared as plantains (cooked), having flesh which is rich orange-yellow to reddish in color.

Propagation

The clonal groups are propagated vegetatively with constant selection for desired traits (fruit elegance, flavor, and so forth, and resistance to diseases such as Panama disease, or to nematodes or corm borers). Of the 500 varieties of bananas that are recognized, about half are diploids, with most of the remainder being triploids (Purseglove 1988). Bananas take from 2 to 6 months or more to produce an inflorescence from a new sucker shoot.

Bananas can reproduce by seeds (in the wild primitive varieties) or, as is primarily the case, by suckers (in most cultivated and wild varieties). The suckers may be removed and planted in new locations to expand the range of the variety. Bananas moved from Malesia to Oceania, Africa, and Central America and the Caribbean by means of transplanted suckers.

Diseases

Bananas are afflicted with diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Fungal diseases include Sigatoka leaf spot, crown rot, anthracnose, pitting disease, brown spot, diamond spot, fusarial wilt (Panama disease), freckle disease, and rust. Bacterial infections include Moko, banana finger rot, and rhizome rot. “Bunchy top” is the only widespread virus that attacks bananas. It is transmitted by an aphid vector and can be controlled with insecticides (Stover and Simmonds 1987).

Bananas are also susceptible to damage from nematodes, insect larvae, and adult insects. Caterpillar defoliators are common but do not usually cause sufficient destruction to impact production levels. Boring worms cause some damage to the pseudostems and rhizomes, but nematodes account for most of the damage to those tissues. Thrips and beetles chew and suck on the pseudostems, fruits, and suckers, leaving unsightly scars that reduce the market value of the fruits. Nematodes can cause significant damage, particularly to the commercial ‘Cavendish’ varieties. The nematodes will commonly attack plants that have been weakened by other pathogens, such as Sigatoka leaf spot, which promotes rotting of the pseudostem, rhizome, and roots.

Of the pathogens listed, fusarial wilt (Panama disease) and Sigatoka leaf spot have had the greatest impact on both the local and commercial production of bananas. Fusarial wilt wrought devastating losses of bananas in the Neotropics between 1910 and 1955, causing commercial banana producers to switch from the ‘Gros Michel’ variety to ‘Cavendish’ varieties, which are more resistant to fusarial wilt. Sigatoka leaf spot involves three closely related fungi that destroy the banana leaves and decrease transportability of the fruits (Stover and Simmonds 1987).

History

The wild ancestors of edible bananas (M. acuminata Colla and M. balbisiana Colla), except for the fe’i bananas, are centered in Malesia, a term that refers to the entire region from Thailand to New Guinea—roughly the main trading area of the Malay mariners. Simmonds (1962) has indicated that probably crosses and/or autopolyploidy of these wild ancestors originally took place in Indochina or the Malay Archipelago. Subspecies of M. acuminata have also been transported to locations as distant as Pemba, Hawaii, and Samoa, where they may have contributed to the production of new varieties.

The subspecies malaccensis produces edible diploid fruits via parthenocarpy and female sterility. These characters would have been fostered by human selection and vegetative propagation, transforming bananas from jungle weeds into a productive crop (Purseglove 1988). According to Simmonds (1962):

Edibility arose in subsp. malaccensis near the western edge of the range of M. acuminata, and, perhaps, in other subspecies independently; male-fertile edible clones were carried to other areas and intercrossed and outcrossed to local wild forms, generating new phenotypes and new structural chromosome combinations in the process; selection retained the best and the most sterile of these, which, under prolonged clonal propagation, accumulated still more structural changes until, finally, total sterility supervened and clonal propagation became obligatory.

Distribution

A Burmese legend relates that humans first realized bananas could be eaten when they observed birds eating them. The common Burmese generic name for bananas is hnget pyaw, meaning “the birds told” (Simmonds 1957; Lessard 1992). Fijians tell a story about a young girl whose lover disappeared while holding her hands in farewell. He was replaced by a banana sucker, which grew “hands” of banana “fingers” that represented the outstretched hands of the lost lover (Reed and Hames 1993).

Bananas are thought to have been distributed from western Melanesia into eastern Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia during the time of aboriginal migrations into these areas. Linguistic evidence indicates a common center of origin of some Polynesian or Micronesian banana varieties in Indo-Malaysia. The movements of these varieties can be traced through two dispersals. The first involved movement into the Philippines, then into Micronesia and, eventually, Polynesia. The second dispersal involved movement into Melanesia first, with a secondary dispersal into parts of Polynesia (Guppy 1906). In the later dispersal, seeded varieties and the fe’i bananas constituted the initial wave of introduction, followed by successive waves of nonseeded varieties imported from west to east, penetrating into Oceania such that more varieties may be found in western, and fewer in eastern, Oceania. (This is a general trend for the common banana varieties but not for the fe’i bananas, which have the greatest diversity in the extreme east of the distribution.)

Bananas may initially have been introduced into Africa by Arab traders who brought the plants from Malaysia. But they may also have arrived earlier with Indonesians who brought the fruit to Madagascar. Or, of course, they could have been introduced even earlier by unknown individuals from unknown sources. Regardless, the plants subsequently spread across tropical Africa from east to west. Simmonds (1957) indicates that the banana entered the Koran as the “tree of paradise.” The generic name Musa is derived from the Arabic word mouz, meaning banana (Purse-glove 1988). Linnaeus applied the name Musa paradisiaca as a reference to this ancient terminology.

The name “banana” came from the Guinea coast of West Africa and was introduced along with the plant into the Canary Islands by the Portuguese (Purseglove 1988). At least one clone was taken from the Canary Islands to Hispaniola in 1516. Bananas were carried as food for slaves who originated in areas of traditional banana cultivation, and J. W. Purseglove (1988) surmises that 1516 may mark the first introduction of bananas into the Caribbean and tropical America. Alternatively, bananas may have arrived in the Neotropics via the Spanish trade route from the Philippines.The Spaniards used the name plátano for bananas, from which the term “plantain” has been derived (Purseglove 1988).

The Economic Importance of Bananas

The secondary centers of banana distribution in Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean have become the greatest consumers and exporters of bananas. Estimates of the total banana production of the world range from 20 to 40 million tons (Simmonds 1966; Stover and Simmonds 1987), with 4 to 5 million tons per year entering international trade (Morton 1987; Purseglove 1988: 376). Africa is the largest producer of bananas, with some sources saying that half of the world’s bananas are produced there. But most African bananas are consumed locally, although some are exported to Europe. Ecuador (the world’s largest banana exporter), Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, and Panama all export bananas to the United States and Europe, whereas the Philippines and Taiwan export bananas to other Asian countries, particularly Japan.

Three-fourths of internationally traded bananas are grown in Central and South America and the Caribbean, with much of this trade controlled by the United Fruit Company and the Standard Fruit Company. The former has enormous land concessions, regional shipping interests, and distribution networks within the United States (Purseglove 1988). United Fruit developed its economic empire beginning in 1874 in Costa Rica, and subsequently expanded throughout the region. The bananas produced were all of the ‘Gros Michel’ variety until 1947, when because of increasing losses from Panama disease, the ‘Robusta’ and other disease-resistant varieties began to replace the ‘Gros Michel.’ Panama disease (causing leaves to wilt and die) and Sigatoka disease (causing decay spots on leaves and either death of the plant or a greatly reduced crop output) are the two major diseases that have limited the international economic potential of bananas and have also driven the study and introduction of various disease-resistant varieties of the fruit. The economic value of bananas in international trade is, however, a secondary consideration; their major importance is in providing basic local nutrition for many rural populations in tropical, Third World countries.

It is interesting to note that both the fe’i bananas and the common bananas have attained their greatest agricultural and human importance in areas far removed from their centers of origin. Fe’i bananas originated in Melanesia, spreading and diversifying into the central Pacific, and the common bananas originated in Malesia, spreading and diversifying in Africa, Oceania, India, and, most recently, the Neotropics.

Specific Cultural Usages

Southeast Asia

The origin of bananas was probably within the cultures that developed in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Burma. These cultures have long traditions of banana usage. Mature fruits are commonly eaten, but in addition, young fruits are pickled and male buds are consumed as a vegetable in Malaysia and Thailand. Sap from the variety ‘Pisang klutum’ is mixed with soot and used to give a black color to bamboo basket-work in Java. Also in Java, the fruit stems surrounded by the leaf sheaths of the ‘Pisang baia’ variety are employed in the preparation of a type of sweetmeat (Uphof 1968). Flowers may be removed from the buds and used in curries in Malaysia. Ashes from burned leaves and pseudostems serve as salt in the seasoning of vegetable curries. Banana plants may be placed in the corners of rice fields as protective charms, and Malay women may bathe with a decoction of banana leaves for 15 days after parturition (Morton 1987).

Although Southeast Asia/Malesia is considered to be the origin of the distribution of bananas, it is important to note that bananas never became as important there as they did in parts of Africa, Oceania, and, more recently, the Neotropics, although production of bananas is increasing in Southeast Asia (Morton 1987; Sadik 1988). Such a relative lack of importance is perhaps connected with the presence of two other competing Southeast Asian starch crops: rice and sago. Rice offers a storable starch source with potentially greater stability of production and yield than bananas. Sago palms of the genus Metroxylon are present throughout Malesia in the same areas in which bananas may be found. But as sago production drops off and disappears, there is increased dependence upon bananas and increased diversity in some varieties, including the fe’i bananas.

Two areas that certainly must have received some of the earliest diffusions of bananas out of Malesia are the Philippines and India. In these areas, banana cultivation became much more important and variations in usage evolved. Filipinos eat not only the cooked or raw fruits of fresh banana but also the flowers.They employ the leaves and sap medicinally and extract fibers from the leaves. Young inflorescences are eaten both boiled as a vegetable and raw in salads (Brown 1951).

Banana fibers are used in the production of ropes and other products that require durability and resistance to saltwater. Fibers from the sheathing leafstalks are employed in the manufacture of a light, transparent cloth known as “agna” (Brown 1951).Wild banana leaves are used extensively as lining for cooking pots and earthen ovens and for wrapping items that are to be sold in markets. The Filipinos have effectively developed the banana as an export crop with up to a half million tons sent yearly to Japan (Morton 1987).

In India,”the banana plant because of its continuous reproduction is regarded by Hindus as a symbol of fertility and prosperity and the leaves and fruits are deposited on doorsteps of houses where marriages are taking place” (Morton 1987). Virtually the entire above-ground portion of the banana plant is eaten in India. The fruits are cooked or eaten raw, with no clear distinction between plantains and bananas. The young flowers are eaten raw or cooked. The pseudostem may be cooked and eaten as a vegetable or may be candied with citric acid and potassium metabisulphite. India is currently the leading producer of bananas in Asia, with virtually the entire crop employed for domestic purposes (Morton 1987).

Africa

In Africa, bananas reach their greatest importance as a starchy food (Purseglove 1988).Throughout African regions where bananas grow, 60 million people (34 percent of the population) derive more than 25 percent of their calories from plantains and bananas (Wilson 1986).Within Africa, many tropical traditional cultures have come to depend heavily upon bananas as a starch source (Sadik 1988). For example, the Buganda in Uganda typically consume 4 to 4.5 kilograms of bananas per person daily. Tanzanians and Ugandans produce large quantities of beer from bananas ripened evenly in pits. These bananas, after becoming partially fermented, are trampled to extract the juice, which is then mixed with sorghum flour and old beer and allowed to ferment for 12 or more hours. The beer is drunk by people of all ages and has become an important part of the diet (Purse-glove 1988).

Sweetmeats, made from dried banana slices, serve as famine foods, preserves, and desserts. Flour can be produced from ripe or unripe fruits, and the flowers are employed as an ingredient in confections. Banana flour is sometimes called Guiana arrowroot, a reference to its importance in West Africa (Uphof 1968). The fruits can be used medicinally for children who are intolerant of more complex carbohydrates and for adults with various intestinal complaints (Purseglove 1988). Additionally, banana pseudostem fibers are used as fishing line in parts of West Africa (Morton 1987).

In West Africa, as in many other parts of the world, bananas are grown in compound gardens and in and around village backyards (Swennen 1990). Proximity to the human population allows for harvesting of the unevenly ripening bananas, a few at a time from each bunch, and the human presence wards off birds and other animals that eat the fruits. In this situation, banana plants typically grow on local refuse dumps, which become rich in nutrients from decaying food products. Banana plants growing in rich soils tend to produce larger bunches, which may become so heavy that the plant falls over. Traditional farmers will place one or more prop poles under the base of growing bunches in order to keep the plants upright.

Oceania

Fried or steamed bananas are staples in many Polynesian cultures. Rotumans serve fried bananas as part of meals containing other dishes; alternatively, an entire meal may consist of fried bananas. Banana fruits are frequently grated or pounded, mixed with coconut cream and fruit juices, and served as a thick beverage. Banana bunches are often found hanging at the edges of cookhouses and ceremonial structures in which a celebration is occurring. Hung in a cook-house, bananas will slowly ripen over a period of days or weeks, allowing for gradual usage of the bunch. Bananas hung for ceremonial feasts and celebrations will be pit ripened (see below) in advance so that the entire bunch may be eaten ripe on the same day.

Many bananas ripen unevenly, with the more basal (usually higher on a pendulous raceme) fruits ripening first. In these cases, the basal bananas will have ripened and fallen off or been eaten before the apical fingers have even begun to ripen. This natural tendency makes it difficult to cut and use an entire bunch of bananas at one time. A traditional method, which is often used in Polynesia (and elsewhere) to promote even ripening and to increase the rate of ripening, is as follows: A pit (approximately 1 to 2 meters deep) is dug in the ground. It is made sufficiently large to hold several bunches of bananas (up to 10 to 15). The pit is lined with leaves, and fires are built in the edges of the pit. Unripened, but mature, banana bunches are cut from the pseudostems and placed in the pit. The bananas are covered with leaves and the fires are stoked to burn slowly. The pit is covered with soil and left for 3 to 7 days. This process both heats the bananas and extracts oxygen from within the pit. When the pit is opened, the bunches of bananas are found to be entirely and uniformly ripened. Perhaps this ripening process occurs because of increased concentrations of the ethylene produced by the earliest ripening bananas. This in turn would speed the ripening of neighboring fingers, and the exclusion of oxygen and insects would prohibit deterioration of the fruits that ripened first (Stover and Simmonds 1987). The speed of the process is increased by the heat generated by the slowly smoldering fires.

The Neotropics

Neotropical tribes, such as the Waimiri Atroari of Brazilian Amazonia, have incorporated bananas into their diets as both food and beverage. Other neotropical traditional cultures have incorporated bananas not only as food but also as medicinals for stomach ulcers, as antiseptics, and as antidiarrheal remedies (Milliken et al. 1992).

As already mentioned, three-quarters of the worldwide production of bananas for international trade is produced in Central and South America and the Caribbean. This trade is extremely important to the local economies in Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, and Panama. The significance of bananas in the United States and Europe has been entirely a function of production in the Neotropics.

The United States

Bananas commonly obtained in the United States may be ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ or ‘Gros Michel’ varieties or clones closely related to the ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ (Simmonds 1986). About 12 percent of the world production of bananas involves these AAA cultivars (Stover and Simmonds 1987). The bananas eaten in temperate countries are typically picked prior to ripening of any of the bananas in a bunch. The bunches are broken down into individual “hands” for shipping from the tropics. Bananas are shipped—usually within 24 hours of harvest—in containers that maintain low storage temperatures from 12° C to -25° C. The unripe bananas may be stored for up to 40 days under controlled conditions of cool temperatures and ethylene-free environments. When ripening is desired, the temperature is raised to 14 to 18° C and ethylene gas is sprayed on the bananas, resulting in rapid, uniform ripening in 4 to 8 days (Stover and Simmonds 1987).