Attempt to better know bananas backfires

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/27/19

Is there a “perfect” food?

I found a list on of the “11 most nutrient-dense foods on the planet,” salmon claiming the top spot. Kale came in at number two.

Liver, …

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Attempt to better know bananas backfires

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Is there a “perfect” food?

I found a list on of the “11 most nutrient-dense foods on the planet,” salmon claiming the top spot. Kale came in at number two.

Liver, blueberries, egg yolks and dark chocolate made the list, too, as did shellfish, garlic (“an amazing ingredient”) and seaweed.

Potatoes made the cut and, according to the website, “contain a little bit of almost every nutrient you need.” A similar note accompanied sardines, number eight.

Each of these foods have devoted champions.

Kale has become so popular, I suspect the work of lobbyists.

And as a young reporter, I once covered a “sardine luncheon” in which the participants — a wide spectrum of ages, all gathered for the event underneath the picnic shelters at Aberdeen Lake in Moore County — ate only sardines and saltines. When in Rome, you in the interest of journalistic integrity I peeled back the lid on a can myself and, for the next half hour or so, was an honorary member of the sardine cult, though it didn’t stick. If I’ve eaten a sardine since — just thinking about those crunchy little bones now makes me anxious — it was by accident.

What I didn’t find on the list — and it was the reason I’d been curious enough to Google the information — was one of my go-to staples: bananas.

Delicious, though tricky to spell, bananas didn’t make the “perfect” cut, but that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the fruit.

Here’s why I like them so much: They’re sweet and tasty, they’re satisfying, they contain a long list of vitamins (including nearly 10 percent of the potassium we should have each day), and they’re convenient, naturally packaged in their own easily-peeled container. If there’s a better on-the-go breakfast than a banana and a cup of coffee, nobody has told me.

They’re also good on peanut butter sandwiches, baked into bread, cut up atop cereal or yogurt and indispensable as a mainstay of smoothies.

And a lot of people seem to agree with me. I read somewhere once that bananas are Walmart’s best-selling item. I can’t independently verify that, but they do seem to sell a lot of them and I buy my share.

But bananas, I’ve come to learn, aren’t always so simple as the grab-and-go food I and so many others love.

In fact, given the wide variety of banana options the world offers, they baffle me a bit.

I’ve always been a bit intimidated, for example, by plantains. I see them in some groceries, but haven’t a clue, really, what to do with them, other than some vague knowledge that they’re not commonly eaten like the commonplace yellow banana I champion. I know them, right or wrong, as “cooking bananas,” and one day I’d like to explore them more.

At some point in the last several years, I started occasionally seeing on the grocery shelves a few other banana oddities: red bananas, for instance, and tiny ones called, I think, lady’s finger bananas.

Curious about these more exotic variants, and intent on expanding my banana horizons, I read about them so I wouldn’t seem like such a rookie.

And what I read whet my appetite. Red bananas, the prevailing wisdom goes, are sweeter than the ever-popular yellow ones. Likewise, the lady’s fingers.

A few weeks ago, I finally took the plunge at the local market, placing four red bananas in my cart and about a half-dozen or so of the smaller, lady’s fingers.

My wife gave me a hard time about my choices, predicting that my unusual purchases were a waste of money. She wasn’t moved when I explained about all my reading on the topic. Even the store clerk, who you’d think would be neutral on such matters, gave me a bit of grief, siding with my wife and looking at the banana oddities with some circumspection as she scanned their bar codes. Evidently, the store doesn’t sell a lot of red bananas and lady’s fingers.

The lady’s fingers, I enjoyed. They were, in fact, sweeter than an ordinary banana. But being so tiny, they were a tad inconsequential. And the higher price had me perplexed. I felt like I’d been had. What had started as an exciting foray into uncharted territory was resulting in an indifferent shrug.

The red bananas proved even more confounding. Allegedly “softer and sweeter” than the common Cavendish banana, even boasting a “raspberry sweetness” according to several sources, red bananas seemed just the thing I was looking for; instead, I found them to be tough, nearly tasteless. I wasn’t even sure the ones I’d purchased were ripe, though from my reading about them, they seemed to be. The first of the four I attempted to eat, I couldn’t. I threw it away mostly uneaten, proving my wife’s forecast.

“I think they need a little more time,” I announced in semi-defeat, though not yet out of the fight.

A few days later, I tried another, with similar result, and another a few days after that. Inedible each time.

I waited a week more before I peeled the last one for one final attempt, one last dive seeking the berry-like goodness all those articles touting red bananas promised; though the additional wait had allowed a bit more ripening, I was once more disappointed.

But I’m not giving up. I’ve still got plantains to explore. And there are other bananas I’ve heard of but not encountered, including Apple bananas, Pisang Raja bananas, and the tempting-sounding Blue Java banana, known — allegedly — for its “sweet aromatic fruit” and an “ice cream-like consistency.”

I have doubts about that last claim.

Regardless, I’m sticking with the ubiquitous, energy-boosting yellow banana; perhaps not a perfect food — and kin to many confounding variants — at least they aren’t sardines.


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