Bananas! on “It’s SCIENCE!“
narrated by Professor Joseeum
Welcome, class, to another episode of “It’s SCIENCE!” with Professor Joseeum
I am Professor Joseeum, and today we will be discussing the endlessly fascinating topic of Bananas!
Bananas come from large herbaceous flowering plants of the genus Musa.
Although there are over 1,000 varieties of bananas – including plantains – most are not palatable. The banana that most of us think of and eat on a regular basis is the Cavendish banana, or Musa acuminata.
Bananas have been around as far back as 6th century B.C. and today are popular all over the globe. In fact, bananas are the 4th largest agricultural product in the world, with over 100 billion consumed each year.
In the United States of America, 96% of households purchase bananas at least once per month, and the average American citizen eats in excess of 26 pounds per year – that’s more than apples and oranges combined! However that doesn’t hold a candle to the people of Uganda. They eat an average of 500 pounds of bananas per person per year! In fact the Ugandan word for banana, “matooke”, also means food! Enthralling linguistic fact indeed!
Now, you may be thinking “well, I’ve heard that the banana is the most popular fruit“, but in reality the banana plant is the world’s largest herb! It grows from a leafy stalk that does not have a woody stem, and is related to orchids, palms, and lilies.
Incidentally, a cluster of bananas is called a “hand”, and a single banana is a “finger” – very interesting since the root word “banan” from the Arabic means “finger!” And those annoying stringy things you find when you peel a banana are called “Phloem Bundles” (spelled P H L O E M). But! Did you know if you remove the peel from the bottom of the banana as monkeys do, then the strings come off with the peel… ahhhh, yes, those clever simians! Don’t throw that peel away, however – you can use the inside of a banana peel to polish patent leather shoes.
The banana is indeed a wondrous foodstuff. They are low in fat and calories, but pack a wallop of nutrients including vitamins C, A, B1 & B2, as well as many minerals including quite a bit of potassium. In fact, the potassium content also contains the potassium-40 isotope which makes bananas slightly radioactive! The health benefits of bananas are numerous. They’ve been cited for assisting with digestion, depression, lowered risk of heart attacks and stroke, and may even decrease your risk of getting cancer. Plus they are darned tasty!
But this was not always the case… prior to human cultivation, bananas were small and round with a plethora of seeds and had to be cooked like a plantain if you could eat them at all. And although the Cavendish banana is the standard now, did you know there was another banana before the Cavendish? It was called the “Gros Michel” or “Big Mike”, and was said to be larger, tastier, and even traveled better! So, what happened to the “Big Mike”, and how does this affect the banana we all know and love?
Well, all of the bananas you eat now are probably Cavendish, and all of them are genetically identical clones. They all came from a single plant in the Malaysian jungles of Southeast Asia. This is good because it allows all bananas to be grown in the same way, and have a similar taste and life cycle. However it is also bad because it leaves all bananas susceptible to the same diseases. And this is what happened to the “Big Mike” – a single fungus known as Panama Disease wiped out the entire production crop world-wide! Astounding! In 1923, there was even a popular song, “Yes! We Have No Bananas!” that was about the global banana shortage.
The replacement for “Big Mike” was the Cavendish, which many at the time considered to be an inferior banana. But the Cavendish has the same fatal flaw, and could just as easily be ravaged by a global blight, wiping it out entirely! Fortunately there are scientists working on developing new banana hybrids that are more disease-resistant. Only time will tell if future generations will still be enjoying the yummy goodness that we savor in the humble Cavendish banana…
Be sure to come back next time when we’ll discuss why cashews are not nuts, why you cannot buy fresh sardines, and why the cold water faucet is always on the right.
Goodbye to you, then… and remember It’s SCIENCE!
All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com