Expat Life

I’m bananas for all bananas … but especially the red ones!

Bananas are some of the world’s most convenient health food.  They come in their own little snug jacket, protected from the elements, ready-to-eat whenever you are.  When they’re just ripe, they’re firm and mellow, but let chl susan logo2them age a bit and they turn sweet and silky.  Full of vitamins and minerals, bananas fit into any balanced diet.

Let’s see how much you know about bananas!

There are how many varieties of bananas?

  1. 100
  2. 400
  3. 600
  4. 1000

[expand title=”See answer”] d. 1000. Scientists have identified more than 1000 different types of banana plants around the world, but only about 400 are edible.[/expand]


Banana exports by country totaled US $11 billion in 2015, (in 2011 it was only $9.2 billion). By country, the largest exporter is:

  1. Colombia
  2. Belgium
  3. Ecuador
  4. Honduras

[expand title=”See answer”] c. Ecuador, by far!  Ecuador ranks #1 in banana exports, with 26.5% of the world total, US $2.8 billion.  Belgium, of course, doesn’t grow their own, but they’re ranked second, with 9% of the world’s total, but they’re not growing bananas, they are the world’s largest re-exporter.  India produces the most bananas, more than 29.82 million tones. Ecuador ranks 5th in production, 8.24 million tones. [/expand]


The most widely grown banana is called:

  1. Apple
  2. Cavendish
  3. Golden Beauty
  4. Gros Michel

[expand title=”See answer”] b. Cavendish is the main variety of banana exported around the world.  According to Wikipedia, “a Cavendish banana is the fruit of a banana cultivar belonging to the Cavendish subgroup of the AAA cultivar group” which includes commercially important cultivars like ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ and ‘Grand Nain’. Since the 1950s, these cultivars have been the most internationally traded bananas, replacing the Gros Michel banana after crops of the latter were devastated by Panama disease.”[/expand]


Bananas are a good source of:

  1. Potassium
  2. Manganese
  3. Fiber
  4. Vitamin B6

[expand title=”See answer”] All of the above! Bananas are a good source of all nutrients listed, including about 12% of your daily requirement for potassium and fiber, 14% of vitamin C, 16% of manganese, and 25% of vitamin B6.  All this for about 105 calories in one medium banana…and zero fat, zero cholesterol, and zero sodium.[/expand]


As much as we love bananas (and as much as Ecuador relies on them for a large part of their economy), the health of the industry is threatened by a banana fungus known as:

  1. Club root
  2. Brown rot
  3. Fusarium wilt
  4. Late blight

[expand title=”See answer”] c. Fusarium wilt, or Panama disease affects the roots of the banana plant, is resistant to fungicide and cannot be controlled chemically.  During the 1950s, Panama disease wiped out the Gros Michel banana everywhere except Asia, and today’s popular Cavendish banana is now similarly threatened.  Because cultivated bananas are propagated by “conventional vegetative reproduction” rather than through sexual reproduction, they are less disease resistant compared to wild bananas, which are not readily available.[/epand]


  1. True or False: The banana and the plantain are both members of the same botanical family.

[expand title=”See answer”] True: A plantain, or cooking plantain, is one of the less sweet cultivated varieties (cultivars) of the genus Musa whose fruit is also known as a banana.[/expand]


History & health of bananas

According to the World’s Healthiest Foods, bananas are thought to have originated in Malaysia around 4,000 years ago. From there, they spread throughout the Philippines and India, where in 327 B.C. Alexander the Great’s army recorded them being grown.

Varieties of bananas in Ecuador.

Introduced to Africa by Arabian traders, in 1482 A.D. Portuguese explorers took bananas to the Americas, where the majority of bananas are now produced.  Bananas finally reached the North American continent in the late 19th century, and even then, only the coastal people could enjoy them, due to the fruit’s fragility. With development of refrigeration and rapid transport in the 20th century, bananas have become widely available. Today, bananas grow in most tropical and subtropical regions with the main commercial producers including Ecuador, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Brazil.

As reported in ScienceNewsforStudents.org, bananas are the world’s biggest berries growing on the world’s tallest herb.  Banana plants grow to nearly 3.5 meters tall (11.5 feet), lack woody trunks, and instead of branches, the huge, broad leaves unfurl from the top, where a cluster of flowers grow into “fingers” of fruit. It takes about 9 months for a plant to grow and flower.

Musa dwarf bananas.
Musa dwarf bananas.

Many people think that bananas are “fattening” fruits, a misinterpretation of the sweetness and silky characteristics.  But, that’s what’s so great about this uniquely delicious fruit.  The more ripe they are, the more “sugar” they contain, a misnomer, since table sugar is sucrose, and the sweetness of bananas is mostly from fructose, like in all fruit.

But, instead of eating soft, over-ripe bananas, eat them firm and just past green.  What makes under-ripe bananas uniquely healthy and great for managing weight is their resistant starch, made of long chains of glucose, resistant to digestion and which acts like soluble fiber in your digestive tract. Resistant starch is linked to improved insulin sensitivity and lower blood glucose, as well as satiety, which make them a perfect fruit for managing your weight.  Studies also show that resistant starch is good “food” for healthy gut bacteria, also linked to health and better weight outcomes.

A medium banana has about 105 calories, 30 grams of carbohydrate, and three grams of fiber. Bananas also contain the unique fiber, pectin.  As the banana ripens the pectin becomes more water-soluble, and moderates the impact on blood sugar.

Red bananas.
Red bananas.

Buy bananas firm and just slightly ripened, with their stems and tips intact, without bruises.  I love bananas roja, or dwarf reds, which we buy at the 10 de Agosto mercado, and other mercados around town.  I think they have a nuttier, creamier flavor compared to the Cavendish, their flesh is firmer and denser.  What’s your favorite?  Share where you buy your bananas, and your favorite varieties in the comments below.

If you store them in the refrigerator it will stop any further ripening process.  But, if you want them to continue to ripen, they will stored at room temperature.  Should you want your bananas to ripen more quickly, put them in a paper bag with an apple.  The natural ethylene gas will hasten the process.

Don’t hesitate to freeze bananas…they are great in smoothies or even cut up in your oatmeal.  Just peel and wrap in plastic wrap before freezing.  I like to squeeze some lemon or lime juice over them to prevent discoloration.

More than 100 billion bananas are consumed annually, making the banana the favorite fruit of them all.  According to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world is home to more than 1,000 varieties of bananas, including red, black, green and maroon, but in stores and tiendas and mercados all around the world consumers will see only one sweet, seedless variety, the Cavendish.

The Cavendish has no resistance to the latest fungal disease, and the threat is especially dire because of the way these bananas are propagated: they are all essentially clones, which means that if one plant is at risk, all plants are at risk.  Right now the disease is not present in Latin America, and scientists are working hard to develop disease-resistant bananas.

To read more about the attempt to breed disease resistant bananas click here.

An All-in-One Nutritional Guide to Bananas

AuthorityNutrition.com. Resistant Starch 101— Everything You Need To Know. https://authoritynutrition.com/resistant-starch-101/

Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  Banana varieties resistant to fungus are identified using mutation induction.  http://www.fao.org/in-action/banana-varieties-resistant-to-fungus-are-identified-using-mutation-induction/en/

Green Earth Publishing. Banana Plants. Dwarf red.  http://www.banana-plants.com/Dwarf-Red.html

QZ.com. How the global banana industry is killing the world’s favorite fruit. http://qz.com/164029/tropical-race-4-global-banana-industry-is-killing-the-worlds-favorite-fruit/

Science News For Students. Saving the Banana. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/saving-banana

SFGate.com. Healthy Eating. What Is the Difference Between Sucrose, Glucose & Fructose? http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/difference-between-sucrose-glucose-fructose-8704.html

The World’s Healthiest Foods. Bananas. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=7

Wikipedia. List of banana cultivars. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_banana_cultivars


Susan Burke March

Susan Burke March

Susan Burke March, a Cuenca expat, is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Certified Diabetes Educator who specializes in smart solutions for weight loss and diabetes-related weight management. She is... Read More

  • michael

    Informative as usual. Thanks

  • regina potenza

    I learned plenty about bananas, my favorite fruit, from your column.

  • Cheryl Pomeroy

    Another fun and educational article! My favorite is the “orito” which is found in mercados but not supermercados.