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All About Fruit
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All About Bananas

Banana Preparation | Banana Cooking | Tips

Bananas

Native to tropical regions, a banana has a tough outer peel that may be yellow, red, green, or black when ripe. All varieties have a sweet fragrance when ripe and contain a soft creamy flesh inside that may be white, yellow or pinkish cream colored. There are hundreds of different varieties of bananas but there are several varieties more commonly available. The Cavendish banana is the most common. Other varieties include Baby (also known as Lady Finger or Nino), Blue Java ( also known as Ice Cream) Burro, Hua Moa (also known as Hawaiian), Manzano (also known as Apple), Plantain, and the Red banana (also known as the Jamaican). This fruit is often harvested in a green, unripe stage, but will continue to ripen and turn yellow, red, brown and black when kept at room temperature. Bananas are more flavorful when allowed to ripen off the plant. When bananas are refrigerated, the skin darkens quicker, but they are kept from becoming soft and mushy for a longer period of time.

Uses:

Bananas are most commonly eaten fresh out-of-hand but can be used for many purposes. They can be added to desserts, such as pies, cakes, bars, muffins, and breads. Bananas also go very well when mixed with yogurt, ice cream, puddings, and custards. They are added to fruit salads, adding a sweet flavor and smooth texture to compliment the other fruit. Bananas can also be cooked by baking, frying, boiling, steaming, and sautéing. They are used in savory dishes to add a sweet flavor and chewy texture. Bananas can be dried and eaten as a snack. Drying increases their sweetness and produces a nutritious but high calorie snack.

Plantains, a bland and starchier variety, are most often cooked and eaten as a vegetable. They are a popular ingredient in many African and West Indian dishes. They are generally boiled, baked, fried, broiled, microwaved or mashed, and they are rarely eaten raw as a fruit unless they have ripened to a point where the skins are completely black.

At Their Best:

Available year-round.

How to Buy:

The stage of ripeness that you buy bananas at will depend on personal preference and desired use. All green bananas are unripe and should not be eaten. Bananas that are mostly yellow with just a tinge of green at the ends will have a crisp texture and fresh taste. All yellow bananas that have a few small brown or black specks are fully ripe and will have a sweet taste and smooth texture. As more specks develop the banana becomes overripe and although the flesh continues to sweeten, it also begins to soften. Once the skin is all browned, it is over ripe and should not be eaten but can be mashed and used for cooking.

If you are buying bananas to eat out-of-hand, buy them at the stage that you prefer the taste and texture. When purchasing to mix with other fruits to make a salad, buy bananas that are fully ripe. Do not purchase overripe bananas unless you intend on using them for cooking.

Plantains should be purchased when green or yellow with black spots if being used for cooking. Do not purchase completely blackened plantains unless you intend to eat them as fresh fruit.

Follow these guidelines if buying bananas for immediate use but if you have time for the bananas to ripen to the stage that you desire, you can buy them when they are still green or under ripe and they will ripen at home when stored at room temperature. Avoid purchasing bananas that have soft spots or damaged skins.

Storage:

Store at room temperature. Do not expose the fruit to extreme temperatures. Unripe bananas should not be stored in the refrigerator because the cold temperature will stop the ripening process. Ripe bananas can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days to extend their usage time before they become too ripe. Once they are placed in the refrigerator their peel will turn brown but this will not affect the flesh of the banana. If stored with other fruit, bananas will accelerate the ripening of the other fruit.

Ripe bananas can be mashed and then frozen. When mashing, add a little lemon juice to prevent the fruit from discoloring. The mashed bananas can be placed in air tight freezer bag and stored in the freezer for up to two months. You can use the frozen bananas in recipes such as salads and fruit shakes or they can be thawed and used in breads, cakes and muffins.

Varieties:

Baby Banana

A smaller variety of the larger Cavendish cousin, shown at the right. The baby banana is very sweet in flavor and unique in its smaller appearance, generally no more than 3 inches long. It is a variety that is often used in fruit salads, for baking breads, or as a snack. The baby banana is grown in the tropical countries of South America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa. When ripe, the skin will be bright yellow and have a cream-colored flesh. Also known as a Finger, a Ladyfinger, a Lady Finger, or a Nino banana.

Blue Java Banana


A small plump variety of banana that is commonly used as a dessert or snacking banana. It has bluish-green skin that covers a sweet tasting creamy flesh. This banana is also known as the Blue Java Ice Cream banana.

Burro Banana

A flatter, smaller and more rectangular shaped banana, this banana is shorter and chunkier than its cousin, the Cavendish banana. The cream colored flesh provides a distinct lemon flavor when ripe. This banana is used for snacks, in breads, salads, and can be dried for banana chips.

Cavendish Banana

The most common variety of banana used in baking, fruit salads, fruit compotes, and to complement foods. It ranges from approximately 6 to 10 inches in length. The outer skin is partially green when sold in food markets and turns yellow when it ripens. When overripe, the skin will turn black and the flesh becomes mushy. Bananas ripen naturally and are at their peak ripeness when the peel is all yellow with a few dark brown specks beginning to appear.
Manzano Banana A smaller member of the banana family, but not as small as the Baby banana, this variety is sweeter, perhaps somewhat drier, and provides a distinctive strawberry or apple flavor. It has a chunkier or thicker appearance than the traditional banana, with an outside skin that has a pale-gold color. This banana is best eaten when the skin begins to show a greater amount of black color or completely blackens. The Manzano banana is grown in South America, Mexico, Caribbean, Asia, and Africa and is also known as the Apple banana.

Plantain Banana

A large "cooking banana" that is flatter and longer than the common Cavendish banana. With a firm texture and a mild flavor, similar to a squash, the flesh of this banana contains less sugar but more starch than other varieties. Consequently, it is often served as a vegetable or potato and made into savory dishes. The plantain is frequently used in Mexican and Caribbean cooking and is generally fried, braised, mashed, sautéed, or stewed. The thick skin of the plantain ranges in color from green prior to ripening to yellow and then brownish-black as it fully ripens. Its flesh is light pink or light salmon in color and darkens as it ripens. As it ripens the starch turns to sugar, making it sweet enough to use in desserts.

Red Banana

A variety of banana, with a reddish-purple skin, that is shorter and plumper than the traditional Cavendish banana. Raw red bananas have a flesh that is cream to light pink in color and are sweeter than the yellow Cavendish varieties. The red banana is at its peak ripeness when some black spots have begun to appear on the reddish-purple skin. When ripe, their texture is somewhat soft, making them less of a good quality eating banana. Grown in South America and Asia, this fruit can be used in salads or fruit compotes, but is most often used as a baking banana. Red bananas are also known as Jamaican bananas.

Banana Preparation

See below for instructions on preparing bananas.

Peel and Slice Bananas

Cavendish Bananas

Peel the skins from the bananas by breaking the tip back and peeling skin in sections. Peel in sections until all the skin has been removed.
Remove any white threads that remain on the flesh of the banana.

Cut the banana into slices to add to sweet or savory dishes.

Plantain Bananas

Cut both ends off the plantain and then cut in half.

Slice the peel lengthwise along one of the its natural ridges. Cut again along the natural ridge on the opposite side. Do not cut into the banana.
At the cut, run a thumb under the skin to loosen.
Lift section of skin off and discard. Remove the plantain from the remaining skin.
Finish peeling the remainder of the plantain in the same manner. After the skin has been removed, slice the plantain crosswise or lengthwise as instructed by the recipe.
Note: Black ripened plantains will generally have softened enough that they can be peeled in the same manner as a regular banana.

Note:

Bananas should be peeled just before using because when exposed to air, they oxidize and turn brown. If they are not used immediately after peeling, brush the flesh of the bananas with lemon, lime or orange juice to prevent them from browning.

Another method that can be used to prevent browning is to soak bananas in acidulated water. Mix 1 part lemon juice with 2 or 3 parts water and place slices in the mixture. Allow to soak for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain slices and then pat dry with paper towels.

Banana Cooking

Baked Bananas | Baked Plantains | Fried Bananas | Deep-Fried Plantains
Dried Bananas | Reconstituting Dried Bananas

Bananas are most often eaten raw on their own, except for plantains. The only time plantains are eaten raw is when they have completely ripened to a blacken state. Only then are they sweet enough to eat raw. Bananas can also be cooked on their own or added as an ingredient in another dish. Some of the cooking methods used are baking, steaming, boiling, sautéing, and frying. Ripe bananas are cooked in sweet recipes where green bananas and plantains are generally used in savory dishes or used as a vegetable. Some of the common cooking methods are shown below. The recipes for each are just one of many that is available.

Baked Bananas

The bananas can be prepared in several ways for baking, such as peeling and slicing lengthwise, crosswise or into small slices. They can also be left unpeeled and baked in their skins. When being used as an ingredient in breads, cakes, muffins, pies and other desserts the recipe may call for slicing or mashing the bananas before they are added. The recipe used below is just one of many that can be used to bake bananas.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place 2 tablespoons of margarine and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a baking dish. Place the baking dish in the oven just long enough for the margarine to melt.

While margarine is melting, peel 4 ripe (but firm) bananas and cut into 3 inch sections.

When margarine has melted, remove from the oven and stir until margarine and lemon juice are well mixed.

Place banana sections in the baking dish and roll in melted mixture until they are well coated.

In a small bowl combine 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Stir until well blended.

Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mixture over the bananas in the baking dish. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and place on small plates. Sprinkle with a small amount of coconut and lemon zest. Serve while warm.

Baked Plantains

The plantains can be prepared in several ways for baking. Some recipes may call for them to be peeled and left whole or the recipe may suggest cutting them into sections. They can also be left unpeeled and baked in their skins. Generally, if the plantains are peeled, there will be other ingredients added before they are baked. If baked in their skins, the recipe may call for other ingredients to be added after they are baked and peeled. The recipe below calls for the plantain to be baked in its skin so any additional ingredients will be added after it is cooked.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Wash 4 green or yellow plantains with hot soapy water and rinse well. Leave them unpeeled and place on a cookie sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. If not tender, return to the oven and bake an additional 10 minutes and then check doneness again.

When done, make slits in the skin to expose the flesh but leave in the skins.

Add butter and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Serve warm as a side dish. Plantains go well with fish and chicken.

Baked plantains can be served seasoned with only salt and pepper or a little butter can be added. They can also be removed from their skins, with butter and other seasoning added before being served, if desired.

Fried Bananas

The bananas can be prepared in several ways for frying. First peel the skins and then cut or slice according to the recipe. See Banana Preparation above for peeling, cutting and slicing instructions. The recipe used below is just one of many that can be used to fry bananas.

Prepare 4 ripe bananas by peeling, cutting in half lengthwise and then cutting in half crosswise to form quartered sections. Do not use bananas that are overripe.
In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup of flour with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Stir until well blended. Coat banana sections with this mixture.

Heat 2 tablespoons of margarine in the bottom of a skillet over medium heat until sizzling.

Place the floured banana sections in the hot margarine and cook until browned on each side. Carefully turn once only.

Remove from the skillet when browned on each side and sprinkle with a little sugar. Serve while warm.

Deep-Fried Plantain

The plantains can be prepared in several ways for deep-frying. First peel the skins and then cut or slice according to the recipe. See Banana Preparation above for peeling, cutting and slicing instructions. The recipe used below is commonly used for deep-frying plantains.

Prepare 2 1/2 pounds of green plantains by peeling (see how to peel plantains above) and cutting crosswise into 1 to 1 1/2 inch long rounds.
Heat 2 cups of vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Place 4 or 5 sections of the plantain in the hot oil. Do not overcrowd. If plantains turn dark brown very quickly, turn the heat down slightly so they will cook a little slower.

Cook the plantain sections for approximately 3 minutes. Turn the sections occasionally as they are cooking so that they will brown evenly.

Remove the plantains from the oil when they have turned a golden brown. Place on a paper towel and allow oil to drain. After they have drained, place the sections on their flat side and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand.
After flattening with the palm of your hand, use a flat bottom bowl, glass or jar to flatten them into thin discs. The device used does not have to be clear glass but using clear glass allows you to see the thickness of the plantain as it is flattened. It also allows you to see if you are applying even pressure.
Place flattened discs back in the hot oil for 2 to 3 more minutes. Fry until the discs are crisp and golden brown.
Remove from the oil and drain again. Season with salt and pepper if desired and serve warm.

Dried Bananas

Drying removes the moisture from the bananas, leaving them with a concentrated flavor. Dried bananas make a sweet nutritious snack and are easy to store. They can also be reconstituted (see below) for use in sweet and savory dishes. The bananas that are to be dried should be all yellow with a few dark specs starting to appear but still firm. Do not use overripe bananas. There are several methods that can be used to dry bananas. Some of the common methods are sun-drying, oven drying, or drying in a dehydrator. The different methods are explained below.

Preparation:

Peel skin from bananas as shown above.

Slice bananas crosswise into rounds that are 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick. If preferred, the bananas can also be cut lengthwise into strips.

Pretreat bananas with lemon, lime or orange juice to help prevent them from turning brown.

The banana slices can also be pretreated with a acidulated water mixture, ascorbic acid solution, or honey dip to prevent them from turning brown.

Sun Drying:

Place treated slices or strips in a single layer on a wire rack placed on a baking sheet. Do not allow banana pieces to be touching. Cover with cheesecloth and place in the sun in a well ventilated area.

Turn bananas every couple of hours. Bring bananas in at night. The drying process will take 2 to 3 days. This is not the preferred method for drying since it is slow and the drying process is hard to control. If the climate is humid it is advisable to not use this method of drying.

Oven Drying:

Place prepared slices or strips in a single layer on a wire rack placed on a baking sheet. Do not allow banana sections to be touching.

Place, uncovered, in an oven preheated between 125° to 150° F. Leave the oven door open a slight amount to allow air to circulate in the oven during the drying process. Dry for 8 to 12 hours, turning after six hours and checking for dryness after eight hours. If not dry, place them back in the oven for two more hours and check again.

Bananas can be dried until they are crisp or if preferred, they can be dried until they are just leathery in texture. Because of the length of time it takes to dry bananas in the oven, it can end up being one of the more expensive methods of drying. Keep this in mind when determining which drying method to use.

Drying in Dehydrator:

Using a dehydrator is the most consistent method for drying.

Prepare in same manner as above. Place slices or strips on the trays of the dehydrator, being careful that the banana pieces do not touch. This allows more even air movement during drying time.

Drying time for the bananas will be between 6 to 12 hours. Turn slices or strips over about half way through the drying time and alternate the positions of the dehydrator trays. The banana slices may stick slightly to the rack. If they do stick, use a table knife to gently loosen them while turning.
Start checking to see if they are done after approximately 8 hours. If not at the desired dryness, allow to dry for another two hours.
After the bananas have dried sufficiently, allow them to cool completely and then store in sealable plastic bags or covered plastic or glass containers. Store in the refrigerator or in a dark area where it is cool and dry.

Reconstituting Dried Bananas

Dried bananas can be reconstituted to use in some recipes.

  1. Place the dried bananas in a saucepan and pour enough boiling water over them to cover.
  2. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until bananas have swollen and are tender.
  3. Drain and prepare as desired.

Tips

  • One pound of bananas is equal to 3 or 4 medium whole bananas, 1 1/3 cup mashed, or 2 cups diced.
  • Save overripe bananas for baking by peeling, mashing and placing in a freezer bag or airtight container. Place in the freezer and use when needed in breads, muffins, cakes, and other recipes that call for mashed bananas.
  • Blend mashed bananas with ice cream to make a banana flavored shake.
  • Place unripe bananas in a paper bag with one ripe apple to speed ripening.
  • Place bananas that are the desired ripeness in the refrigerator to slow the ripening process. This will provide a few more days of use before they become overripe. The skins will turn brown but the flesh will not be affected. Keep up to 3 days in the refrigerator.



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