Inexpensive, easy to eat, and always available, bananas are such a common treat that cooks tend to overlook the sweet (and savory) possibilities the fruit has to offer. "Bananas are not widely consumed in Western dishes outside of breakfast, snacks, or desserts," explains chef Norman Van Aken, author of The Great Exotic Fruit Book. "But in Thailand there is a dish that combines sticky rice, black beans, and bananas, and in the Philippines you can find banana ketchup. In Kenya, green bananas are used to make fries, and you can use green bananas like potatoes to make various starch dishes."
There are some strong health reasons to expand your banana repertoire. Bananas are a good source of potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and fiber. Bananas are also high in FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), starches called prebiotics because they feed probiotics, the friendly bacteria that help keep your digestive system in balance. All these qualities add up to make this everyday fruit pretty exceptional after all.
1 medium banana contains: 105 calories, 27 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 32 mg magnesium, 422 mg potassium, 0.4 mg vitamin B6
Most of the world's bananas are produced in countries where workers are often paid a fraction of the wages they deserve, so it's important to choose fruit with the "fair-trade" label. This guarantees farmers receive
market value for their produce. To learn more, log on to transfairusa.org.
Mellow Yellow, Rosy Red, and Max-Flavor Minis
Branch out from everyday yellow (Cavendish) bananas and reach for a bunch of these:
Squat and chunky, their mild flavor and starchy texture make them ideal for savory dishes.
Faintly sweet, these maroon-skinned fruits have a fragrant, firm pinkish flesh.
Fans extol these petite treats' concentrated "true" banana flavor.
Choose the Best of the Bunch
Bananas continue to ripen once picked, so look for vibrantly colored fruit—green or yellow, depending on how soon you plan to eat it. Avoid buying bananas that have a grayish or dull hue; this means they've been refrigerated in transport, which stops the ripening process. Black or brown speckles, or "sugar spots," are a sign of ripeness, whereas larger, black bruises indicate the fruit has been damaged.
Tip: Never throw away overripe bananas again! Instead, peel and freeze them whole in plastic bags before they turn black. Frozen bananas work great in smoothies and baked goods.