All about bananas

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Bananas have been part of our diet for thousands of years, and written references date back to around 500BC. Today, they are the most popular fruit in the world: in fact, over 100 billion bananas are eaten around the world every year, and around 51% of these are eaten at breakfast time.

Some horticulturists believe that bananas were the first fruit on earth. Their origin is placed in Southeast Asia, in the jungles of Malaysis. Indonesia or the Philippines. where many varieties of wild bananas still grow today. Africans are credited to have given the present name, since the word banana would be derived from the Arab for 'finger'. They started to be traded internationally by the end of the fourteenth century. The development of railroads and technological advances in refrigerated maritime transport subsequently enable bananas to become the most traded fruit in the world. 

Bananas are grown in more than 150 countries, and 105 million tonnes of fruit are produced each year. Bananas which are grown for local consumption are generally grown in traditional, extensive systems. The Dessert banana, like the Cavendish variety, are of huge economic importance to many countries in the Global South, and thye account for 43 million tonnes. and the Plantain account for 45 million tonnes. Locally consumed bananas are a staple food in many tropical countries and play a major role in terms of food security.

People often assume that the banana fruit grows on trees, however, the banana is a high herb which can grow up to 15 metres. There are over 1000 different varieties of bananas growing around the world, subdivided into 50 groups. Some are sweet, like the Cavendish variety, which is the most common and most widely exported. It is named after Musa Cavendishii and was first grown at Chatsworth House in the UK in 1830. This variety of banana is currently under threat from a disease called Sigatoka, which has reduced banana yields by 40% every year.

Banana facts

  • On average each person in the UK eats 10kg bananas a year – about 100 bananas!
  • In Britain, we eat over five billion bananas every year
  • The scientific name for banana is 'musa sapientum' which translates as 'fruit of the wise man'
  • The word banana comes from the Arabic word "banan", meaning finger
  • The banana plant is not a tree, it is the world's largest herb
  • The "trunk" of a banana plant is not made of wood, it is made of tightly overlapping leaves
  • Bananas could help you to feel happier, as they contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to promote relaxation and improve mood
  • The inside of a banana skin can be used to calm an itchy mosquito bite - many people find that rubbing the bite with the skin helps to reduce irritation
  • A medium-sized banana contains only 95 calories, and provides a quick-but-sustained energy boost in a natural, nutritious and easily digestible form with no fat, cholesterol or sodium
  • British Banana supplier, Fyffes, received its first consignment of bananas 124 years ago, in September 1888
  • A stem of bananas consists of “hands”, which consist of 10 to 20 bananas.  When a hand is split, the bananas become “clusters”, which generally consist of between three to eight bananas
  • The inside of a banana skin can be used to polish shoes!


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