By Brooke Gazer
There are good reasons why bananas are the most popular fruit on the planet. Bananas are the world’s fourth richest dietary staple, after wheat, rice, and corn. Low in fat and rich in potassium and vitamins A, B, C and D, a medium banana has only 95 calories. This delicious fruit offers a quick, natural, and sustained energy boost with an added benefit; bananas have a type of protein that your body converts into serotonin. This is something commonly found in antidepressants, known to improve mood and promote relaxations. So if you are having a bad day, grab a banana.
Cuba first introduced bananas into the USA in the early 1800s. But the Boston Fruit Company had cornered the market by the latter part of that century, and more bananas were shipped from Jamaica. At the turn of the 20th century (1899), the Boston Fruit Company merged with another banana trading company to become The United Fruit Company.
The Banana Republics of Latin America
United Fruit took the banana from luxury status to everyday household use, and its popularity was further increased in 1944, when the Chiquita banana jingle premiered in movie theaters. Using a little humor, it instructed people how to choose and use bananas. Chiquita owed much to the “Brazilian Bombshell” Carmen Miranda, the singer/dancer/actress who performed in turbans filled with fruit. To catch United Fruit’s efforts to give bananas sex appeal, the original commercial appears on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFDOI24RRAE).
The broader impact of the United Fruit Company on Latin America, however, is no laughing matter. Under the pretense of helping to develop third world countries, this corporation displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous and peasant farmers. They indulged dictators, instigated coups d’états, and employed violence to control workers. This grand organization was responsible for the term “Banana Republic,” before it became a brand name for trendy clothing.
For nearly a century, United Fruit had a monopoly on banana production and shipping, controlling nearly ninety percent of the market. In 1985 it became Chiquita Brands International with headquarters in both the USA and Switzerland. While it operates more ethically today, it is still plagued by problems that emerged early on – environmental destruction to provide for monoculture, use of carcinogenic pesticides, exploitation of workers, aiding and abetting political and economic corruption.
Mexican Banana Production
Mexico currently holds tenth place in global banana production, and ranks thirteenth in banana exporting. The United States is among the world’s largest banana importers, with 80% of its imports coming from Mexico. This simple fruit generates between $140-$190 million USD annually for Mexico, and sharing a border would make it a natural win- win for both countries. Let’s hope the relationship continues.
Canada does not have the same proximity and most of their bananas originate in Central and South America, not Mexico. This is something that Mexico may want to address in an upcoming trade deal, since bananas represent 10% of Canada’s total produce sales. That’s not small potatoes!
Of about 1000 types of bananas grown in 150 countries, Mexico produces eight. Machos (plantains) are considered by some to be more of a vegetable than a fruit, as they are cooked and served as a side dish for lunch and dinner. The Cavendish banana is the most familiar variety, accounting for almost half of global imports. Tabascos are similar but the shape is slightly more curved. Dominicos are the tiny finger size bananas, sweeter and denser than Cavendish. Manzanas are the fat squat ones and are slightly more acidic. Morados have a reddish-purple skin and seem to have creamier texture.
Cooking with Bananas
In many baked goods, you can make a healthier product by substituting mashed bananas for up to half the oil. Here in Huatulco, bananas ripen quickly, so when they become soft, I peel them, pop them into the freezer, and use them in muffins. When I have a lot, I use them in the following recipe; with the exception of machos, any combination of Mexican bananas (fresh or frozen) can be used.
Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa,
an oceanview B&B in Huatulco
Banana Flax Bread
NOTES: This is a big recipe that makes four loaves, but it freezes well and it is moist enough to keep a loaf in the fridge for a few days.
Mexican vanilla is not as strong as what you buy north of the border, so adjust accordingly. The same goes for Mexican baking powder, so if you use an American or Canadian brand, cut the amount in half.
I’ve also discovered that the cane sugar in Mexico is sweeter than Canadian beet sugar, so this recipe calls for a bit less sugar; if you use beet sugar, add about another quarter cup.
Equipment: food processor, blender, wire whisk, 4 greased and floured loaf pans, and a large and a medium mixing bowl.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- 1½ cups softened butter
- 2¾ cups cane sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 5 cups flour
- 1½ cups ground flax
- 2 tsp salt
- 3 tsp baking soda
- 3 TBS baking powder
- 4½ cups ripe mashed bananas
- 1½ cups yogurt
- 2 TBS Mexican vanilla
1. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly in a food processor;
add the eggs and blend until smooth.
2. Mix the dry ingredients together in the medium bowl.
3. Mash the bananas in a blender; add the yogurt and vanilla and blend until fully incorporated.
4. Pour the butter/egg mixture into a large bowl.
5. Add a third of the banana/yogurt mixture and combine the ingredients with a wire whisk – do not over mix. Then add a third of the flour mixture. Repeat adding the banana/yogurt and flour mixtures by thirds. Do not over mix.
6. Pour into 4 greased and floured loaf pans.
7. Bake at in preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, reducing heat to 325°F (160°C) heat after the first ½ hour. Test for doneness with a skewer or long tooth pick.