“The Tropical Banana Plant | Count the Many Ways to Use It,” shows the versatility of this staple for many Jamaicans. It grows in the tropics and subtropics.
You can prepare a meal using green or ripe bananas in several ways. Every part of the fruit and plant are used. Nothing has to be wasted. We’ll look at the fruit in its sugar and starch stage, the skin, leaf, bark and trunk.
Different cultures have various ways of making similar recipes. You have the opportunity to share your story here so we can “sample” your favorite dish.
The Tropical Banana Plant | From Martinique to Jamaica
The information available states that a French botanist and chemist, Jean Francois Pouyat, first brought the Gros Michel banana plant to Jamaica from Martinique in 1820. He planted it on his coffee estate.
This turned out to be an action that contributed to one of the most valuable food source for the country. Jamaica has the right climate for its growth and survival.
Bananas thrive in tropical and sub-tropical climates with temperatures between 80°F and 95°F and moderate rainfall. It flourishes in Africa, Asia, and other similar areas.
Jamaica grows a wide variety of the banana and its close relative, the plantain. It became the first and one of the major banana exporters to other countries.
Each plant bears only one bunch referred to as several rows of hands with many fingers. It dies after the bunch is cut off leaving its suckers that spring up at its root to grow and reproduce.
A deadly bacterial disease affecting the banana plant in Jamaica, the Moko Disease, destroyed several crops over a period of time. It is incurable and doesn’t respond to chemical treatments.
It has now been eradicated except for a small area in St. James.
The Black Sigatoka is a more deadly disease destroying many banana plants in Jamaica. It is controlled by fungicides and natural products which has proved to be a costly venture.
The Banana Board has the responsibility of managing the banana industry. It serves as the point of contact for Government and farmers. It promotes, regulates, issues licenses, and works closely with the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries.
What is the Banana? | Fruit, Vegetable, or Herb?
The banana is a fruit and is classified as a berry … surprise! Did you know that?
Its sugar content, sucrose, glucose, and fructose, increases as it gets riper and more yellow. The green produce, rich in carbohydrate, makes up a large part of many families’ diet.
It contains nutrients such as Vitamins C and B6, potassium, fiber, protein, and carbohydrate and is a good food source.
Despite the controversy that people living with diabetes should not eat bananas, a good guideline to follow is moderation. There are nutritional benefits for everyone who are not intolerant of them.
Some sources indicate that the banana is a herb. They came to this conclusion based on the plant’s structure.
The stain present in green bananas is sticky and leaves a residue on hands and hard-to-remove marks in clothes. These can become permanent. A ripe banana doesn’t pose that problem.
It is easier to remove stains from your hands using soap, oil, and salt, for example.
The banana is enjoyable in its green or ripe form regardless of the classification it is given. Just enjoy it.
Banana Treats | Sweet and Savory
Let’s count the number of ways to make banana treats …
- Banana Bread: This one is a favorite. Ask Camille of Camille’s Kakes & Treats. (See her information below.)
- Banana Cake: I’ve used a quick and easy recipe mixing the wet ingredients in a blender and folding that mixture into the dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Banoffee Pie: This originated from England and is served in some hotels and restaurants.
- Banana Porridge: Many Jamaicans grew up having banana or cornmeal porridge for breakfast.
- Banana Pudding: It’s in a class with sweet potato and cornmeal puddings in the Jamaican culture.
- Pureed Banana: A popular baby food, maybe one of the first introduced to them.
- Tie-a-Leaf, Blue Drawers, Duckunoo/Duckanoo: Made from a batter with grated green bananas, raisins and spices. It is then wrapped in the leaves, tied with strips of bark or string, and boiled.
- Banana Dumplings: These are usually mixed with flour and salt and formed into a ball then flattened before boiling in salted water alone or with other foods.
- Banana Fritters: Fried grated green or ripe bananas in a batter with salt fish (salted cod fish) or salt mackerel.
- Banana Chips: Just about every school canteen, shop, and supermarket carry this crispy, salty treat. You can find it in the Caribbean aisles or grocery stores.
- Mannish Water and Other Soups: The popular mannish water (goat soup) and fish tea (soup) are incomplete without green bananas.
- Boiled Bananas: A major staple enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Fried Green Bananas: This is another convenient way to prepare it.
- Mashed Bananas: An alternative for young children and adults on a soft diet.
Some Other Uses | Skin, Leaf, Bark and Trunk
The banana plant is versatile and no part of it is wasted.
The skin has several uses. It serves as a food source for farm animals, is used as compost, loosens splinter from the skin, soothes insect bites, whiten your teeth, polish shoes, and so much more.
The ripe banana is used in most of these cases.
The leaf is another versatile part used to wrap, cook, and serve food. Get creative and make a boat or cone with the leaf. Fill it with rice, salad, dessert or other favorite foods.
Substitute this broad leaf in place of regular or disposable serving plates and trays. Enjoy the extra benefit of antioxidants drawn into the food while making clean up much easier. Its an eco-friendly way to enjoy a get together.
THE BARK AND TRUNK
I was drawn to a spectacular framed artwork hanging on a wall at a beach house in Santa Barbara, California. Various shades and patterns from the banana bark formed the entire structure of a bird in flight.
The artist created this masterpiece using tan, beige, light to dark brown, and black hues. These are the natural solid, spotted and streaked formations of the bark.
We had banana plants in our backyard in Jamaica. This was an assignment I took on creating my own version when I returned home. I’m drawn to creativity.
The bark is the outer lining of the trunk. People have made baskets, boxes, plates and trays, table and floor mats, and furniture from intertwined pieces of bark.
The trunk can be chopped up and used as compost. There are so many other uses that aren’t mentioned here.
How do You Like It? | Share Your Story
Some cultures are only aware of the use of ripe bananas as a food source. They have no idea about green bananas cooked and eaten in other cultures. This is a part of the Jamaican tradition.
I’ve had to explain to many Americans that it’s a staple used similarly to potatoes. Not everyone would be inclined to try it.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The Banana Board has recorded that Jamaica grows over 150 varieties of banana and plantain including the Gros Michel, Lacatan, and Chinese.
- Jamaica has changed its focus from export to domestic banana cultivation since 2008 due to severe challenges.
- The first recognition of the devastating Moko Disease destroying the banana plant in Jamaica took place in 2004. It affected the parishes of St. James, Portland, St. Mary, and St. Thomas.
- The banana is a plant, not a tree because of its soft succulent rather than hard woody trunk.
Diseases, heavy rainfalls, and storms have had negative effects on the banana plant in Jamaica and other parts of the world. This has resulted in fluctuations in the industry.
It continues to be a favorite food item in many parts of the world.
Do you have a banana story, a recipe, or some cultural traditions?
I’d love to hear from all of you town and country folks. Don’t be shy. Let’s hear about it. You may have a Caribbean heritage with these customs passed on from your ancestors.
If you find “The Tropical Banana Plant | Count the Many Ways to Use It” useful, please let me hear from you. Feel free to leave your questions and comments below.