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Banana History

Cultivation of bananas pre-dates that of rice

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Bananas

© 2006 Peggy Trowbridge

Banana History

Bananas are the fruit of Musa acuminata. Acuminata means long-pointed or tapering, not referring to the fruit, but to the flowers giving birth to the fruit.

Antonius Musa was the personal physician to Roman emperor Octavius Augustus, and it was he who was credited for promoting cultivation of the exotic African fruit from 63 to 14 B.C.

Portugese sailors brought bananas to Europe from West Africa in the early fifteenth century. Its Guinean name banema, which became banana in English, was first found in print in the seventeenth century.

The original banana has been cultivated and used since ancient times, even pre-dating the cultivation of rice. While the banana thrived in Africa, its origins are said to be of East Asia and Oceania.

The banana was carried by sailors to the Canary Islands and the West Indies, finally making it to North America with Spanish missionary Friar Tomas de Berlanga.

Sweet bananas are mutants

These historical bananas were not the sweet yellow banana we know today, but the red and green cooking variety, now usually referred to as plantains to distinguish them from the sweet type.

The yellow sweet banana is a mutant strain of the cooking banana, discovered in 1836 by Jamaican Jean Francois Poujot, who found one of the banana trees on his plantation was bearing yellow fruit rather than green or red. Upon tasting the new discovery, he found it to be sweet in its raw state, without the need for cooking. He quickly began cultivating this sweet variety.

Soon they were being imported from the Caribbean to New Orleans, Boston, and New York, and were considered such an exotic treat, they were eaten on a plate using a knife and fork. Sweet bananas were all the rage at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, selling for a hefty ten cents each.

More about Bananas:

Banana Selection and Storage
Banana Facts and Information
Banana Equivalents
Classic Banana Recipes and Cooking Tips
Bananas and Health - Hangover Cure
Banana History
Banana Recipes
Bananas Photo © 2006 Peggy Trowbridge, licensed to About.com, Inc.

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Chez Panisse Fruit
Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook
The Cook's Encyclopedia of Fruit
Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables
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