Dietribes: Banana Rama


• "In recorded history, bananas date back to around 600 B.C.E., when they were mentioned in Buddhist texts. The fruit came to the Americas in the 15th century but wasn't regularly imported to the United States until later, following a showcase at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Now their popularity cannot be denied - American consumers eat 30 pounds of bananas a year!"

• When harvested, bananas contain about 20 percent starch and only 1 percent sugar. By the time the fruit is ripe, the proportions are reversed. Bananas also release comparatively large quantities of ethylene gas to help themselves ripen; the gas will even ripen other fruit put in a bag with a ripening banana.

• Designer Stefan Sagmeister covered a wall with bananas in an NYC exhibit a couple of years ago called Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far. Apparently that did not include creating a banana wall that would one day go off!

• Miss Chiquita was created in 1944, drawn by artist Dik Browne who also illustrated her "cousins": the Campbell Soup kids and Hagar the Horrible. She initially appeared as an animated banana, but eventually developed into "the First Lady of Fruit," where she (well, models portraying her) began making guest appearances on radio. (You can also vote in a current design contest to introduce a new Chiquita banana sticker)

• Miss Chiquita is not the only banana mascot, though -- the Banana Slug is the official mascot of the University of California Santa Cruz.

• At first glance the blue banana might not look any different from a regular banana. But wait! It actually produces an exceptional flavor which is often describe as a vanilla-custard, or like ice cream!

• Speaking of cream, Banana Creme was the original Twinkies flavor from 1930, when the Twinkie was first invented, to the 1940s, Twinkies were filled solely with banana creme. But a banana shortage during the war forced Hostess bakers to replace it with the now familiar vanilla flavor.

• Most of our great-grandparents grew up eating not the Cavendish (the banana we know today) but the Gros Michel banana, a variety that was apparently tastier. But starting in the early 1900s, banana plantations were invaded by a fungus called Panama disease, and vanished one by one. Cavendish, a Chinese variety, did save bananas from being completely wiped out; however, they are smaller, bruise more easily and not quite as tasty.

• If you are worried about bruising bananas in transit, fear not! Carrying cases and banana guards are out there. Of course, some bananas are just tough (and, apparently, tattooed).

• Still need more bananas? Then you'll probably go bananas at the International Banana Club Museum. Over the past 38 years, Ken Bannister has collected more than 17,000 banana-themed artifacts. The collection includes a banana golf putter, banana beverages, and a gold-sequined "Michael Jackson banana." Mr. Bannister organizes the goods into "hard" (brass, lead, wood, plastic banana wares) and "soft" (stuffed bananas, banana beach mats, banana tents). He estimates the effort has cost him over $150,000 over the years.

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.