When you’re eating food do you thinking about where it’s from, what it actually is or if it’s radioactive or not? We’re usually too busy enjoying food to think about all the little known facts behind them. Some foods, like bananas, have very interesting details you probably didn’t know about! So here are 10 facts about bananas that make the fruit more interesting.
10. Bananas Are Actually A Berry
That’s right, a banana is in fact a berry. While it certainly doesn’t look like the berries we normally think of, it is still classified as one. The way fruits are classified by type is surprisingly scientific. We won’t bore you with the full details, but it is a fact that bananas are indeed a berry. To be defined as a berry a fruit must be without a “stone”, produced from a single flower containing one ovary. In other words, most fruits that grow in clusters are classified as berries because they have multiple seeds and ovaries within them. There are actually other fruits that you may be surprised to know are technically berries, including cucumbers, grapes, kiwi fruit, watermelons, tomatoes and even pumpkins, to name a few. That said, we’re not sure how seriously we all should take this scientific classification of berries as most of our favorite “berries” like strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are not actually classified as berries, scientifically speaking… go figure.
9. They Can Come In A Multitude Of Colors
Although it is known that bananas can be red, they can also come in purple, green and brown when ripe, yes even when they are brown they are still ripe. Since bananas are a product that grow in clusters from a plant, the word is used to cover both the plant it grows from and the fruit itself. This means that the term ‘banana’ is extended to cover other members of the plant genus, Musa, and adds scarlet bananas, pink bananas, and the Fe’i bananas which are a sort of burnt orange. In India, Southeast Asia, and China wild bananas grow with such diversity they have been spotted in bubblegum-pink, and green and white striped and ones with fuzzy skin. The color variants only apply to the outer, peelable shell of the fruit and not the actual banana flesh itself. The inside always stays light yellow with a few of those yummy looking brown spots here and there, but don’t worry the spots don’t mean the banana is rotten. The spots are completely harmless. If you are one of those people who really hate green and brown bananas, you could always put them in the sun, it allows them to ripen and turn yellow faster.
8. Banana Beer And Wine
Banana wine is primarily distilled and used in East Africa, especially in Tanzania where it is made commercially, although outside of Africa it can be pretty hard to find. The wine itself is made in sort of the same way as any other wine: ripe bananas are mushed down and fermented with sugar and yeast added, and apparently it comes out as a clear, sparkling wine that is sweet and can have varying alcohol levels depending on the amount of sugar and yeast added. Although efforts have been made in the past to bring the small-scale productions to an international scale, it has yet to really take off. Banana beer is also mainly prevalent in Eastern Africa, although it enjoys much more traditional significance than the wine and has proved to be far more popular. It is created by peeling and kneading ripened bananas before distilling them with water and then Sorghum, a type of grass, is lightly ground and roasted before being added to the banana juice. The beer is commonly consumed during rituals and ceremonies in Western Uganda and is available in three different brands.
7. They Don’t Actually Grow On Trees
This may surprise you but the big tall trees you see bananas growing on aren’t actually trees at all, they are in fact, the plant that the banana grows from. The plant is called a banana plant instead of a banana tree and it also happens to be among the largest herbaceous flowering plants on earth. To put it simply, what appears to be the trunk of a Banana tree, is actually the stem of the Banana plant. It’s a plant stem, not a tree trunk, even if it looks like one. The main difference between the stem and a trunk is that a trunk is made out of bark, or wood, while a stem is made out of plant fiber, in this case, banana fiber. It’s really not a wonder that people mistake the stem for a tree after all the plant can grow to be between 16 feet to 23 feet high with leaves extending as far out as nearly 9 feet. It does seem rather strange that something as tall as a tree and something that looks like a tree is not classed as a tree but it’s mainly due to the fact that its stem isn’t made of wood and therefore doesn’t have a trunk, one of the main classifications for a tree. So technically, it’s a berry plant, not a banana tree. It’s all very scientific.
6. The Banana Forms From A “Heart”
Now don’t get too attached or worried, the banana heart isn’t like a beating heart of an animal or person and the banana doesn’t hold love or attachment to its neighboring bananas, it’s mainly called a heart because of the way it comes into existence. When a Banana plant matures, it stops producing new leaves and instead begins to form something called a “Banana heart”. To make a complicated matter simple, when a Banana plant is mature, it starts to produce a “heart” which eventually emerges at the top of the plant. From there, the Bananas start to sprout and grow from the heart, into the larger clusters of Bananas you see hanging from the top of Banana plants, and at your local produce vendors and grocery stores. So next time you’re looking up at a Banana plant or see a bushel of Bananas, remember it all started from a Banana heart.
5. Bananas Have Seeds In Them
Before you start saying that you’ve never seen seeds in a banana you absolutely have and most likely thought it was something else. Because bananas are a fruit, they automatically have seeds in them, that’s just one of the classifications it needs to meet to be called such and while they may not be large enough for you to see or to unexpectedly bite on, they are definitely there. They aren’t dangerous in any way and are too small to be even a choking hazard. In the types of bananas you would usually get at the grocery store and eat while you run around like crazy at work and call it lunch, the seeds have been diminished so much that they are nearly non-existent, nearly. The tiny little seeds can still be seen on the inside of your banana in the form of little black specks. But don’t worry they are in no way harmful and won’t make banana plants blossom out of your stomach. Like most berries, you can safely eat these seeds, no problem.
4. Bananas Have Radioactive Potassium Particles
This may sound alarming but bananas are actually radioactive and are one of the most radioactive of all fruits, but if you had a rad meter, or a Pip Boy, with you, it most likely wouldn’t even pick up on it. That’s because bananas are only slightly radioactive, not enough to harm you unless you ate a ridiculous amount, and it would truly have to be a ridiculous amount. This is because your body naturally creates potassium and you need to compete with it for any sort of dramatic effects. The bananas also have a slight glow in the dark when ripe, which allows nocturnal animals to find them more easily, although this is probably more likely to do with the naturally occurring fluoresce than any sort of significant radiation. The reason it’s classed as radioactive is because of their potassium level. Potassium decay results in something known as Potassium-40, which is a radioactive Potassium isotope, which all sounds very scientific and a little daunting. There really isn’t any need for alarm though, our bodies naturally require certain levels of potassium in order to survive. The presence of potassium in our bodies helps to lower blood pressure, assists the nervous system, affects anxiety and stress and even kidney disorders. It’s also an old wives tale they can be used to reduce menstrual cramps. Some other foods that are surprisingly radioactive include potatoes, carrots, beer, red meat, and butter beans.
3. There Are Actually Two Different Types Of Bananas
Over the years there have been many discussions and some very serious debate about how to class bananas and how many cultivars of them there actually are. While some have been added and taken away, the two most commonly acknowledged cultivars of banana are are Musa acuminata, usually what we’re referring to when we say ‘dessert bananas’, and cooking bananas which we commonly refer to as plantains, usually a hybrid cultivar by the name Musa paradisiaca. The difference isn’t really in the DNA of the banana or even how it looks, but more how humans eat and prepare the two different types. However, this distinction is usually only seen in North American and European countries, with places in Southeast Asia claiming no distinction at all since both bananas can be prepared and eaten the exact same way. Dessert bananas are the bananas that you eat, hopefully, very often and the ones we use for our cereal and school lunch boxes – they are supposed to be sweeter and slightly larger than those used for cooking. The big difference is that dessert bananas are eaten raw. The plantain bananas are usually only eaten after being cooked. And by cooked, we mean in a pan or pot, not cooked into banana bread. Plantains are stated to be more starchy and less sweet than dessert bananas, they also may have thicker skin and can be used at any stage of ripeness.
2. The Banana is Thousands of Years Old
While the dates are a bit sketchy, bananas have been part of our lives for a very long time – they’re something that everyone eats, unless you’re allergic to latex, and something that everyone has a memory of whether it be the smell of freshly baked banana bread or watching people slip and fall on the peels during Saturday morning cartoons. The answer to who was the first person to take a bite out of one of the yellow fruit fingers can be vaguely narrowed down to someone in the Western Highland Province of Papua New Guinea. Archaeological finds put the location at Kuk Swamp, a place where significant agricultural development took place, sometime around at least 5000 BCE, if not even earlier, and that’s probably as close to an answer as you’ll get. While they Papua New Guineans seemed to be the first to domesticate the fruit, it wasn’t long before it ended up in Africa and Southeast Asia where it has had a long history of cultivation and diversity, as well as making its way to the Middle East where the consumption of it is drastically increased during the month of Ramadan. The fruit eventually found its way to the Portuguese, who then, in turn, introduced it to the Americans who began to consume them in limited amounts, due to the high price tag that accompanied such exotic fruit, shortly after the Civil War. Today, the sweet, yellow fruit is enjoyed all over the world, India and China export most of the world’s bananas with a combined total of about 28%. The banana remains an important food in many of the world’s developing countries as it is a very healthy and easily accessible fruit that can be made into a variety of meals and dishes and it can grow in just about any type of soil all year round.
1. The Yellow Color Is Actually Fake
While the pale yellow and sometimes greenish-yellow color of bananas is genuine, the bright, vibrant yellow that we see sitting on the shelves is actually artificial. Today’s bananas are harvested and exported at such a massive and economically efficient scale that the ripening of the fruit has to be artificially sped up to meet the demand of the millions who eat them. Due to this process, the bananas end up coming out a much more vibrant color than they were before, as well as having their taste and texture slightly altered, even to the point that if below a certain temperature they will completely stop ripening and just turn grey and break down. When the bananas are picked, they are almost completely green and not at all ripened. To speed this up, the fruit is locked in an airtight room after it arrives at its destination and sits there while the room is filled with ethylene gas, a type of colorless, flavorless gas with a musty sweet smell, to cause the ripening process to speed up. It’s this gas that gives the bananas the signature yellow color we are so used to. If you see bananas in a supermarket that are fully green, it’s because the retailer ordered them “ungassed”. The non-gassed versions will never fully turn to a yellow color before rotting and are the type of bananas usually used for cooking.