Hi friends, it's Starry! I've been reading a lot about Bananas lately. Did you know all the commercially available bananas available in most supermarkets are clones of each other? They don't contain seeds. In contrast to this monoculture in modern grocers, there are around 1,000 known types of bananas throughout the world, "including dozens of wild varieties, many no bigger than your pinky and filled with tooth-shattering seeds" (According a book all about Bananas). While there are many varieties of bananas, it is the Cavendish variety that has become the quintessential and ubiquitous "banana". BUT, the Cavendish banana has only been the default commercial variety since the early 1960s! Prior to that, it was the Gros Michel type that filled store shelves and home kitchens. Check out this excerpt from an article in Atlas Obscura that puts the mid-century switcheroo into perspective:
"When America fell in love with the banana, [the Gros Michel] is the fruit that captured its heart. The alchemist who first produced the banana split used a Gros Michel; the chemist who produced artificial banana flavor allegedly had it in mind as well. When Eddie Cantor sings “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” it is Big Mike [Gros Michel] he’s singing about."
The Gros Michel was wiped out by a fungus called Panama Disease. It was then that the Cavendish—similarly hardy enough for shipping—was selected by commercial producers and distributers as a replacement. it's widely reported that the Cavendish is inferior in taste and texture to the famed Gros Michel.
Dan Koeppel, who wrote the aforementioned book—"Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World"—relays that “Chiquita and Dole definitely worried that consumers would reject the Cavendish because it didn’t taste as good.” Welp, apparently consumers didn't really have a choice, and even so the change went relatively unchallenged according to various sources at the time and since. As the Atlas Obscura article puts it, "there was barely a peep from banana-munchers whose Gros Michels were entirely replaced by Cavendishes in the early 1960s".
Gros Michels are not completely extinct; you can buy starter a starter Gros Michel plant on Amazon for roughly $20 plus shipping. The plants take about a year to bear fruit, but the environment has to be right and the plants can grow up to 30 feet tall. So it's not really a practical move if you're simply interested in trying an "original" banana split (with vegan ice cream!). So, is it possible to still experience a Gros Michel banana? It is! But unless you live in Malaysia or other tropical climates (where you may find some at the local fruit market), it will cost a bunch (a banana bunch). You can buy a box of around 8-12lbs of Gros Michel bananas from Miami Fruit company for $97 plus shipping. Eight to 12 pounds is kind of a lot so maybe you could get a group together to split the cost and have a banana split party.
Whether you're eating the now-common Cavendish or the posh Gros Michel, did you know you can eat the peels? Banana peels have a lot of potassium, fiber, and even B12, a nutrient that many people think can't be derived naturally from a vegan diet (it can!). Check out this recipe on how to make an animal-friendly, cruelty-free vegan pulled-bbq sandwich out of peels!
We hope you've enjoyed this mini-essay on bananas, and also that you love our new design of Baby Opossum Seedlings and Cavendish Bunches! Download this blessed image straight to your phone by pressing on the image to save to your phone camera roll, or get the file below.
Written by me, Starry, from It's Me, Sesame!