Although bananas are not native to the Caribbean, the islands provided the perfect climate for growing them. Spanish explorers introduced the fruit to the area, and it’s become an essential part of the Caribbean diet. There are hundreds of varieties, and they are eaten in every stage of ripeness. Here’s what you need to know when buying and eating bananas.
There are hundreds of banana varieties, but only a select few are available at your local grocery store.
Bananas are a great source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. You are probably most familiar with the Cavendish. Here is a quick breakdown of the most available commercial varieties:
Cavendish: This is the most common banana available and the one with which you’re most familiar. The wide availability of this banana variety is due to its long shelf life and resistance to disease. You can do just about anything with this banana: eat it raw, sauté it, bake it, blend it, etc.
Manzana: These bananas are smaller and sweeter than Cavendish. It’s sometimes called a dessert banana and is known as the apple banana. It has a banana flavor with a hint of apple or strawberry in the background. The trick is to wait until the skin starts to show black spots before eating. Manzanas are delicious eaten raw but can be sautéed or baked into desserts as well.
Baby Bananas: These look like smaller versions of Cavendish.
They are sweet and can be prepared the same way as Cavendish. The smaller size makes them ideal for a flambé dish.
Red Bananas: This is an interesting banana indeed. The red outer skin is eye catching, and the inner flesh is creamy and sweet with a hint of apple. The banana goes by many names such as Jamaican Red, Cuban Red, or Indio.
It’s delicious eaten raw or blended into smoothies.
Burro Bananas: These bananas have a unique blocky shape. Sometimes they are called chunky bananas. They are a bit shorter and bigger around than Cavendish. Let them ripen a bit for a sweeter flavor if eating them raw or cook them.
Plantains: Plantains are related to bananas, but eaten in a different way. They have high starch content and are cooked before eating them, even in the ripe stage. You can learn more about how to select, cook, and peel them in my article: About Plantains.
Stages of Ripeness
Believe it or not, bananas can be eaten in all stages of ripeness.
Green: Yes, you can eat green bananas. They are firm, starchy, and do not have the characteristic banana flavor. Peeling one is difficult and very similar to peeling a plantain. Green bananas are usually cooked into soups and stews, or boiled and served as is or with other boiled root vegetables. To speed up the ripening process, place the bananas in a paper bag with an apple.
Greenish-Yellow: At this stage, bananas are almost ripe and easy to handle. There is a bit of sweetness when eaten raw. You can also sauté, fry, mash, or boil the banana at this stage.
Yellow: This is the stage when a banana is completely ripe.
The banana begins to soften but still holds its shape. It becomes sweet and smells like a banana. Most people enjoy eating the fruit raw or in fruit salads at this stage, but it can still be sautéed, flambéed, and baked or cooked into desserts. To slow down the ripening process, you can place bananas in the refrigerator for a few days. The skins may still turn color, but the fruit inside will still be firm and delicious.
Yellow with brown spots: At this point, the banana has become very ripe. There should be more yellow than brown. The fruit becomes more sweet and tender. Some people enjoy eating the fruit raw at this stage, but it is the ideal stage for smoothies, puddings, and desserts.
Brown: The banana has become overripe when it is mostly brown. The fruit becomes very soft and strongly flavored.
Many people won’t eat a banana raw in this stage, but some people still enjoy it. When a banana has gotten to this state, try using it in smoothies, shakes, and desserts.
You can read up on the history of this fruit by reading Banana History by Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, Home Cooking Guide