Bananas are the quintessential fruit, and one of your primary food sources. They’re also a popular snack item in many countries around the world. But did you know that there’s more to these yellow giants than just delicious taste buds? In this article, we’ll discuss what makes up bananas’ seeds, how they grow on plants, and why some people might want to eat them!
In general, bananas come from two different plant species — Musa acuminata (the Cavendish banana) or Musa balbisiana (the Gros Michel). The latter is generally considered superior for cooking purposes because it has better flavor characteristics for baking and frying foods. However, both varieties contain an edible seed inside their large, fleshy part at the center of each leaf-like section called a bunch. This seed can be eaten raw or cooked into various dishes like breads, cakes, porridges and even ice cream. But do these fruits actually contain seeds? And if so, where exactly does the name “banana” originate? Read on to find out about bananas’ origins and history
Do Bananas Have Seeds?
Yes, bananas do have seeds. However in today’s commercial modern bananas the seeds are just for show and serve no purpose, Modern Bananas are genetically bred and not grown from seed but from a bulb or rhizome
Where Do Bananas Come From?
The first evidence of wild bananas appeared between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago in Southeast Asia with the earliest cultivation dating back 5,000 years earlier in South America [Source: BBC News]. Today, several types of bananas thrive throughout tropical regions across Africa, Central and South America as well as southeast Asia. These include the dwarf Cavendish variety which grows best in warm climates and thrives under low light conditions while the Gros Michel type prefers moderate temperatures and full sunlight exposure. Cultivated bananas tend to produce higher yields per acre compared to other crops such as soybeans and corn due to its shorter growing season and less labor required for harvesting and processing.
Like most vegetables and fruits, bananas were likely domesticated by indigenous peoples who lived near areas rich in natural resources. For example, early inhabitants of Madagascar may have begun cultivating bananas over 4,000 years ago, but the crop was accidentally introduced to nearby islands including Mauritius and Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa. As time passed, populations living on these islands began eating bananas instead of naturally occurring yams. Eventually, settlers on these islands took the practice of domesticating bananas further south along the African coastline until eventually reaching mainland Tanzania.
But the real story begins thousands of miles away in India and Indonesia, specifically Sumatra. Here, local tribespeople developed three distinct strains of bananas known today as Javanese, Madagascan and Malayo-Polynesian bananas. The later strain became the basis for the modern day Cavendish banana cultivar after British colonists discovered the island nation of Ceylon during the 19th century. After gaining control of the area, they planted the fruit’s seeds on plantations and allowed locals to cultivate the banana locally. Soon after, the country officially changed its name to Sri Lanka in honor of the new crop.
Another important factor in developing the modern-day Cavendish banana was its intense commercialization efforts. During World War II, the United States government sought to increase agricultural production for famine relief in parts of Europe occupied by Nazi Germany. To accomplish this goal, U.S. scientists worked closely with growers in Hawaii to develop improved versions of existing agricultural practices. One of the resulting products was the banana plant Hyoscyamus niger, otherwise known as Dwarf Cavendish Banana Plant. When paired with newly developed techniques for planting, picking, shipping and selling the product, the result was a massive boost in production capacity for the export market.
Although not all farmers use hybrid seeds, others choose to take matters into their own hands when growing bananas. Learn how next!
Hybrid Seeds vs. Open Pollinated Varieties
Many gardeners prefer open-pollinated banana varieties since they typically yield larger harvests without any need for special care. However, some people opt for hybridized seeds because certain traits aren’t available in open pollination forms. Take disease resistance for instance; while hybrids often carry genes for enhanced durability against major diseases such as black Sigatoka fungus infection, they don’t offer protection against lesser threats such as mildew. On the flip side of the coin, open-pollinated types sometimes lack desirable physical features that make particular hybrids attractive to buyers.
So before deciding whether to buy hybridized seeds, consider carefully what qualities you’d like to see incorporated into your harvest. If possible try visiting local farms or greenhouses to check out the selection firsthand before making a purchase.
Keep in mind, however, that no matter which kind of banana seeds you decide on, proper storage and handling will help ensure freshness once harvested. Once ripe, bananas should always be stored in paper bags in dark, humid locations free of insects and pests. Finally, if you plan on exporting your homegrown goods overseas, consult the International Seed Trade Association website for information regarding specific requirements imposed by customs officials.
To enjoy the healthiest results from home gardening, experts recommend using organic soils enriched with composted manure or peat moss. Properly draining soil encourages good drainage, reduces the risk of mold growth and increases nutrient uptake within roots. Other factors that affect banana growth include pest management, fertilizer application and irrigation methods. Since bananas require a long growing cycle spanning months rather than days, regular watering is necessary to prevent dehydration. It’s also common for growers to apply pesticides to protect against insect damage, especially those pesky brown bug grubs that feed on young leaves. Just remember to wash any pesticide residue off produce prior to consumption.
Since bananas ripen fully indoors, lighting levels must remain constant to avoid changes in coloration caused by variations in daylight hours. Also, keep track of temperature fluctuations to maintain ideal humidity ranges and minimize spoilage. Harvesting too soon causes premature ripening and spoils the quality of remaining bunches. Conversely, waiting too long means that potential customers won’t get the chance to sample what you’ve got before it goes bad.
Finally, don’t forget size! Although smaller specimens are preferred by purists looking for high yield, bigger ones provide greater profit margins for small producers. So whatever the case, be sure to leave room for ample expansion during future seasons.
How Does the Banana Get Such Bright Yellow Coloring?
Like any living organism, the banana tree absorbs nutrients from the air and water it consumes. When the leaves absorb sunlight, they convert those materials into chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is responsible for giving leaves their vibrant yellows, greens and reds. As the chlorophyll molecules bond with carbon dioxide and release oxygen, they assume different colors. For example, the green chlorophyll molecule becomes blue when it bonds with carbon dioxide. That same molecule changes to purple when it attaches to iron atoms in the presence of oxygen. Green chlorophyll molecules become reddish-brown in sunlight. Brown chlorophyll molecules change to orange in the presence of oxygen. Orange chlorophyll molecules become brownish-red in sunlight. Red chlorophyll molecules change to violet in the presence of oxygen. Violet chlorophyll molecules turn purple in light. All of these reactions happen because the electrons in the chlorophyll molecules move around in specific ways.
When the chlorophyll molecules bond with carotenoid pigments, they form xanthophylls. Xanthophylls are responsible for the vivid yellow color that makes the banana tree famous. Xanthophyll molecules take on different hues based on what kind of atom they attach to. If the xanthophyll binds to nitrogen, it appears green. If it bonds to oxygen, it turns red. If it bonds to magnesium, it darkens to purple.
To understand why the peel of a banana stays bright yellow while the inside turns brown when ripened, you must consider another component of the banana plant — polyphenols. Polyphenols contain antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable compounds formed when oxygen interacts with organic substances. While normal oxygen atoms act as oxidizers, free radical atoms function like reducers. They reduce other molecules instead of combining with them. Free radicals cause cell membranes to break down, proteins to misfold and DNA to mutate. Oxidized fats create rancidity, spoiling the texture and flavor of oils and margarine. So antioxidants fight free radicals.
Polyphenols exist naturally in the tissues of the banana tree. To obtain their protective qualities, however, researchers extract them using solvents. Scientists add these extracts to products such as breads, cereals, chocolate, beverages, and salad dressings. Other companies manufacture supplements containing concentrated forms of polyphenols. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers supplements safe for healthy adults under medical supervision.