Q: What do you call a charismatic banana? A: A banana smoothie! Sweet and soft, easy to digest, and packed with nutrients: get the low-down on one of our favorite ingredients.
Bananas for bananas
Musa sapientum: no, it’s not a spell for junior wizards, it’s the Latin name for the sweet, yellow-skinned variety of banana that has become the world’s most traded fruit. They’re portable, peelable, and equally beloved by teething babies, frazzled commuters, and calf-cramp-suffering marathon finishers.
Packed with energy, bananas are also rich in potassium, fiber, vitamin B6 and vitamin C. Bananas also contain moderate amounts of minerals such as copper, magnesium, and manganese. Due to their high potassium content and low sodium (salt) levels, including bananas in your diet can contribute to lowering blood pressure, which in turn reduces the risk for heart disease and stroke.
When unripe, bananas are rich in pectin and resistant starch, two types of fibers that help control blood sugar levels. Resistant starch also functions as a prebiotic fiber due to the fact that it escapes digestion and feeds friendly bacteria in the colon. When the banana ripens, this starch converts into readily available natural sugars which the body uses for energy.
Because of their natural sugars and mineral content, bananas are an athlete’s best friend. They can provide a quick source of energy pre-workout, and help replenish minerals afterwards, which may reduce exercise-related muscle cramps and soreness.
Bananas are believed to be one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops, first grown in Southeast Asia, particularly in the jungles of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The word ‘banan’ is Arabic for finger, and it was with Arab traders that bananas traveled to the Middle East and the east coast of Africa., Later, Portuguese explorers took the fruit from Africa’s Atlantic coast to grow on the Canary Islands. Bananas were then introduced to the Americas by Spanish missionaries. The first bananas in the United States were brought from Cuba in 1804, but the first large shipments did not begin until 1870, from Jamaica.
Slippery banana skins quickly became the scourge of city streets, with an 1879 Harper’s Weekly editorial complaining that, “whosoever throws banana skins on the sidewalk does a great unkindness to the public, and is quite likely to be responsible for a broken limb.” The comedic potential of such unfortunate accidents was seized on by burlesque comedians like “Sliding” Billy Watson, whose signature entrance was to slide halfway across the stage on - you guessed it - a banana skin. Charlie Chaplin may have been the first to put a banana skin gag on screen in 1915’s By the Sea, but by that time it was already a well-worn staple of slapstick comedy.
Sourcing the best fruits
Bananas thrive in tropical climates – they need rich soil to grow, as well as a minimum of nine months of sunshine and frequent heavy rain. The banana’s parent plant is an herb, not a tree, and the fruit is in fact a berry which takes 9 to 12 months to grow. They’re harvested while still green, so they can slowly ripen to a glorious yellow during the long transit to your local store. (On arrival in your fruit bowl, of course, they promptly turn from yellow to brownish-black in about five minutes. Banana bread, anyone?)
There are over 1,000 different varieties of bananas growing around the world, but the most common is the Cavendish: the long, golden yellow one most of us know so well. This variety was first grown at Chatsworth House in the UK in 1834 by William George Spencer Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Its popularity led to the development of massive monocultural plantations that are now under threat from a leaf-spot disease called Sigatoka, that has to be controlled with fungicides. Banana growers are racing to develop new hybrids with greater resistance to diseases like this.
We source the bananas for our smoothies from certified organic farmers in South India, who grow a smaller, disease-resistant native variety called njalipoovan. These fat, thin-skinned, finger-length fruits are incredibly sweet and tasty, but not as easy to export as the larger, more robust Cavendish. That makes them ideal for kencko: once the ripe bananas have been flash-frozen and slow-dried locally, they’re shelf-stable and ten times lighter, meaning they can be shipped with ease - and with a much lower carbon footprint.
Mr. Joseph is typical of our banana farmers in Kerala: he has been cultivating his 2.5 acres of land as an organic smallholding since 2012. By growing bananas in combination with coffee, chili peppers and mango, he can maximize yield and minimize the requirements for pest control. This method is called intercropping: banana trees provide the shade that coffee bushes love, while the caffeine in coffee acts as a natural insecticide. Biocompost, vermicompost, and good old cow dung supply extra nutrients for the soil. The main threats to his crop are wild boar and monkeys - it really does seem like everyone loves bananas!
How to use it
Bananas make an amazingly creamy, mellow base for smoothies. You’ll find them in kencko ambers, crimsons, golds, greens, jades, purples, reds, scarlets and yellows. (Banana skeptics please note, we have eight banana-free smoothie mixes too. We know some of you are allergic or simply don’t like the taste.)
If you’re a banana nut, try whizzing up one of our smoothies with a milk of your choice and a chopped up banana (fresh or frozen). You can enjoy it then and there as a thick and creamy shake, or freeze it to make a tasty but healthy ice cream(ish) dessert. Use popsicle molds, or tip the mixture into a tub and freeze, returning to give it a stir through every few hours to prevent watery ice crystals from forming.