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Banana


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Hello everyone. I appologize for not being involved for some time, I promise to come around one day. But in the mean time I would like to bring up a rather important discussion. As long as I can remember I don't believe anyone has discussed the dismal state of our cavendish banana or the history of banana's in general. Though I could have just over looked it.

As some of the older people here may remember a banana from the 50's called the Gros Michel which was the original banana kind before the banana we eat to came around (cavendish). That banana was larger, strong and probably most would agree (who has eaten it) much better tasting than our cavendish. I dont really know considering I have never eaten one or probably ever will since "panama disease" anihilated the product decades ago.

The cavendish was originally put in replace of gros michel just because It was the best alternative in crisis situations. A lot of money and time has been put into making hybrid or "new banana" over a the last several decades. It seems that the research is becoming more and more important.

The reason we eat cavendish now is because during the change over it was resistant to panama disease and yellow sigatoka which were the two main maladies that ended the gros michel's reign.

Since then a new strain of sigatoka has arrive, it being called black sigatoka and is much more deadly thatn the yellow vareity. Unfortunately the cavendish cannot fight this one, though there are methods of controlling it (chemicals). So for a while the banana plantations have been doing ok but struggling.

About a decade or two ago southeast asia began having severe trouble with there "new cavendish" plantations. Something was wiping them out and nobody knew what. As it started to approach Africa and many of the islands between asia and australia the diagnosis came in, it was panama disease. And upgraded version found in asia has (since and still today) been ravaging the continents at a time. So far it has not reached our hemisphere but scientist know with certainty it will, when is unknown. The problem is, once it hits our hemisphere it will spread so fast that the cavendish will inevitably be called in for "game over".

What will we do without our banana? this is a very seious problem.

I wonder what you think about the situation. later I will bring up gmo possibilities but right now I am curious about what you think.

Edited by chiantiglace (log)

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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I think this is something we will see more and more of as commercial export crops push out local production. Here in Turkey you have so many different local varieties of fruits and vegetables but farmers are now ripping out their old trees in favor of the one or two varieties that they can sell (for higher prices, driving prices up here as wel) to the EU. Then a disease comes around and because they are engaged in monoculture, the whole crop is gone.

It's both fascinating and scary how this thing has progressed. The original idea was to get fruits and vegetables from one area to people in areas where they could not be grown, or were available only for a very limited time. All well and good. I grew up hating tomatoes, but learned to love them in Greece in the 1970s because they were amazingly flavorful, sweet. Now you can't find a good tomato in Greece and Turkey is going the same way. Even the seeds commercially available are limited; to have really good tomatoes, you now have to go to a farmer's market or a village, get seeds from what they have and then raise your own.

I suppose soon enough we'll just bag it and survive on soilent green.

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

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The Cavendish is the banana of choice at the moment, but the are other cultivars around. The local supermarket also sells Lady Finger, Sugar and occasionally red bananas. The local market also sells several tiny Thai varieties (as well as starchy plantains).

This site shows a large range of banana types, including a gros michael.

The question is if these banana types (and other strains that are being developed) are commercial or not. Might be a good thing if the Cavendish becomes less dominant, might allow the potential for developing the market for these other types. On the other hand I think it more likely that a GM or otherwise resistant Cavendish would be likely to be developed.

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I agree with you sazji about tomatoe's, I never cared for them as a kid either, only being aware of beefsteak vareity really, though I always liked pizza sauce.

The thing about territories now ripping up local vareities and replacing with the more popular vareities has actually been happening extremely widespread for over 100 years now, especially in central and south america it is nothing new. Infact it has been so bad this last century the united fruit (chiquita) and standard fruit (dole) have been tearing apart whole countries at a time and toppling governments constantly just to gain "virgin land" to plant their profitable bananas. Nearly the entire country of guatemala has been used at one time or another for the banana that we know so well. Ever since the european union formed in the 90's they have taken business away from united fruit and focused on other areas for their plantantions. As you may well know, the european union exceeds america in banana consumption, not by much but would explain a little bit about your personal findings in your home country.

In fact, Africa so devasted by black sigatoka and panama disease has been forced to call in a scientist currently working in belgium to produce dozens of new hybrid vareities to help support hunger suffering in nigeria, ruwanda and burundi. So far progress has been great, but distribution of the new bananas are still less than 10% of the needy population as far as I know. They are hoping distribution of the corms will be handed by neighbors and the spread will be subject of the people. So far the bananas have been liked so much that people have been resorting to stealing in the middle of the night to plant trees on there own land (not the worst of crimes). And infact it is sort of what the governments want, because their main fear starting the project was lack of enthusiasm to a foreign product. But when you are hungry and something tastes good, I dont think people are going to be overly resistent.

Thanks for the site adam, I would like to taste the gros michel someday. There are many hybrid versions around these days. It is amazing at how much work has been accomplished so far on such a difficult plant, but just because you see it in your supermarket doesn't mean its going to be the new dominate. I think these companies are looking for the "ultimate banana". A lot of those vareities have a couple difficulties with them. Some damage and bruise very easily, some flavors aren't widely excepted, some dont ripen in the proper format, some aren't resistent enough to disease, and I guess some are just too odd to be accepted.

There is a couple banana vareities I am looking forward to tasting, one is the lakatan which can be found in the phillipines, the other is the goldfinger which I believe can be found in brazil.

Both are being used as base projects for the "ultimate" banana.

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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I wouldn't expect these varieties to be commercial on a large scale, but on a small scale it would be interesting to see if the can establish niche markets.

Bananas are an interesting case as they are sterile triploid plants they are vegatatively. Essentially Caverdish is a clone, but it is also an icon. For most people in the West a banana is Cavendish. Obviously if you remove Cavendish then you get something different or you develop a good copy. The latter is more commercial.

An "ultimate" banana is needed, otherwise you would end up with the banana being another middle-class luxury item. As I'm middle-class I would like to see a combiation of the commercial and the luxury niche varieties.

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It is quite amazing how easily the banana reproduces while still being sterile. Had the banana not been sterile and full of seeds, it might be as popular a commodity as amaranth or the cactus pear, meaning only used in specific applications. The fact that the banana is one of the oldest cultivated products man knows it has slowly become the banana we know today. Without the dozen or so corm clones it produces it may be impossible to acheive its marketability as it has. Some scientist say that at one time man would never have thought that the banana would reach the distance it did, especially being cheaper than the apple.

I do think it is important for more of these vareities to come to market because as a pastry chef I would love the opportunity to utilize them in ways I couldn't with the cavendish.

What would happen to the restaurant industr and people without the cavendish? Obviously it wouldn't shut anything down, but it would be a big dissapointment. How many people have banana's fosters on their menus? How many people have a signature dish utilizing the cavendish that just wouldn't be the same without it?

I guess I am not too worried about it, but I am curious to know what my life will be like in 30 years without the cavendish so expectedly placed in the middle of our supermarket produce section.

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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Somewhere quite close to Santa Barbara is a nursery that specializes in bananas. I last visited a ..few... years ago. They offered tastings from any of the fruit that was ripe. I remember at least 20 different varieties. Might be worth a google, and drive down the coast?

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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This is a very good banana tutorial, thanks. They truly are one of nature's most perfect foods, even the GMO ones!

The cavendish is one of those ubiquitous items that's in every store in every town - like a navel orange from Florida - and it's staggering to think of the numbers.

One of the gas stations in town for some reason had a pallet of bananas that reached the ceiling. They were getting real ripe real fast and the price was $0.09/lb. As in nine cents a pound. I grabbed a bunch mostly out of courtesy and I got change from a quarter.

Other than that one magical banana moment, they have been holding firm at $0.75/lb. For the same price you can sometimes get little red ones - they are firm, creamy and full of banananess. Also available at my supermarket are plantains and organic bananas which I'm pretty sure are also cavendish.

So to answer your question, it does sound like a dire situation if science can't fix the problem. Selfishly, I'd love to have access to a whole spectrum of banana types, including the leaves, but realistically that may not happen and like many I'm only willing to pay so much. It's hard to imagine paying top dollar for something we now take for granted, something to which we may already feel banal - or should that be bananal? :biggrin:

<edited to replace palette with pallet>

Edited by Peter the eater (log)

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

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One of the gas stations in town for some reason had a pallet of bananas that reached the ceiling. They were getting real ripe real fast and the price was $0.09/lb. As in nine cents a pound. I grabbed a bunch mostly out of courtesy and I got change from a quarter.

Is this where we now tell what we each do with a surplus of very ripe bananas? Or is that another thread?

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Somewhere quite close to Santa Barbara is a nursery that specializes in bananas. I last visited a ..few... years ago. They offered tastings from any of the fruit that was ripe. I remember at least 20 different varieties. Might be worth a google, and drive down the coast?

I am pretty sure that lovely place is history. Weather and the economy I believe ended its life.

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Not trying to be flippant, but maybe this disease will bring back many of the other varieties native to their specific regions which might have resistance to these blights. NPR ran a series about the history of the banana industry and its political implications in the countries in which they were grown(for the American banana company)

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There are a couple books that have been written about the banana companies, and many many papers/articles. My favorite is the most recent "Banana, the fate of the fruit that changed the world" by Dan Koepple.

It is true that the banana we know has devoured so much land it has caused the destruction of many other wild vareities that have existed. Though also because of the constant fight with disease the diseases themself have become stronger and stronger that now most vareities that exist in the wild that we would even consider eating are also susceptible to the diseases that plague today, such as BXW.

what scientists in belgium are doing is genitic modification, and its become quite necessary. But to everyones fears of gmos, thats not really a big deal since they are sterile and wont cause extreme changes in other banana vareities being grown around the world. But the certain genes they are using to make them strong are kind of odd.

Its too bad the banana cant handle more temperate climates, I would love to pick up multiple vareities. But until I get a job in India, I will have to suffer with what I can get.

Though if anyone is curious, I do suggest looking into the banana's history because it is amazing how many lives its destroyed, or made miserable. Probably more than both world war I and world war II.

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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  • 3 weeks later...

There's a substantial op-ed on this subject in today's New York Times, titled "Yes, We Will Have No Bananas." The basic thesis:

ONCE you become accustomed to gas at $4 a gallon, brace yourself for the next shocking retail threshold: bananas reaching $1 a pound. At that price, Americans may stop thinking of bananas as a cheap staple, and then a strategy that has served the big banana companies for more than a century — enabling them to turn an exotic, tropical fruit into an everyday favorite — will begin to unravel.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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No, it wont. But They are using the goldfinger as a base test experiment for what may be the next cavendish/gros michel.

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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Just to add, I dont remember seeing enything in this article about the research facility in belgium who has been doing quite a bit of research themselves (mainly through genetic modification and test tube growth) have significantly supported african banana populations.

But still, from what I have read about the goldfinger is it isn't creamy like the gro michel or cavendish, so it may not be as popular as these people hope it to be.

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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the thing i find interesting about all this is, i've had little bananas and red bananas and regular bananas, but mainly like everyone else i've had cavendishes.

and ever since i heard about this thing a few years ago, i've wondered about the gros michel -- every article i've ever read said it tasted way better, and i've never had one. and i know they're still around, so where do i get them?

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Just to add, I dont remember seeing enything in this article about the research facility in belgium who has been doing quite a bit of research themselves (mainly through genetic modification and test tube growth) have significantly supported african banana populations.

But still, from what I have read about the goldfinger is it isn't creamy like the gro michel or cavendish, so it may not be as popular as these people hope it to be.

You can get them here in Australia. Less creamy and a different flavour. Still banana, but not nearly as strong and a little more acid tasting.

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Some corporate interests will be hurt and some assumptions about what "bananas" should taste like MIGHT, not will, slight modifications. Just as if Americans had to adapt to the older European types of apples: a range of textures, aromas, appearances not unfamiliar to our immigrant ancestors.

India is a major center of diversity for "dessert" bananas. It was a single Indian plantain, Calcutta-4, that provided the genes for resistance to a pernicious disease affecting the staple plantain crop in a significant area of Africa. Perhaps finally, people like us who have wasted a lifetime begging that research be conducted on the banana cultivar "Kanthali" tentatively assigned to the Pisang Awak group stand a chance of being heard. There is already a funded program called PROMUSA, but without the right connections and the right mixture of chicanery, nothing happens. Therefore our pleas for a coordinated research on the cultivar Kanthali, and the seeded ultravigorous relative, rather than clever grants for our own benefit, go nowhere!!

We hear there is to be a USDA program to map intensively the cocoa genome. There is a crucially important sugar palm, the sugar date, Phoenix sylvestris, nearly genetically identical with the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, whose genome is being mapped. For an extr $350,000, budget dust, the genome of this vitapam coul be mapped alongside the date's .

There are many reasons for this. Not only will it improve the date genome's efficacy and help resolve fundamental questions in plant physiology, thi sugar pam is vita iffood prodction isto be increased in a water-short world. It is not a new crop, but rather a very old one, pre-dating sugar cane in India [the land which gave the world the word for "sugar" and "candy" , and home to the first refined sugar from palms, then cane.]

The UN is prepared to spend $30 bn in cropping systems that hae createdthe disorted growth patterns now in plae. Unlessthe cropping stem ae judicious modfied, an crops produced with greater effciencies the problems wil not go away. The problem today are not of yields but of productivities. Then again, the matter of efficiencies run into profound social and philosophical choices, even the matter of choosing between 2 types of biological efficiencies.

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That banana plantation near Santa Barbara was only a few acres.

Hardlly a drop in the banana ocean.

They lost their lease because they couldn't pay the rent.

You can still buy some of their bananas at a farmers market in Carpenteria.

They were able to move some plants onto someone elses property.

Edited by pactourvet (log)
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