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In terms of global sales, no other fruit tops bananas.

This curved tropical fruit is loved the world over, but there are some interesting facts you may not know about this highly popular, and delicious, fruit.

Banana is the common name for a number of different fruits around the world. What we think of as bananas is not necessarily the same as many other cultures. Bananas come in a variety of sizes and colors when ripe, including yellow, purple, and even shades of red. A visitor from the tropics to a Western country might not even recognize those little yellow bunches in the grocery store.

The Humble Banana

Native to tropical South and Southeast Asia, and likely to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea, bananas are cultivated today throughout the tropic regions of the world. They are grown in at least 107 countries, and are harvested primarily for their fruit, and to a lesser extent to make wine and decorative plants.

Recent findings suggest that banana cultivation goes back to at least 5000 BC in the Asian regions and possibly even to 8000 BC. It is likely that other species were independently domesticated at later times elsewhere in Southeast Asia and finally into Africa.

The word 'banana' usually refers to the soft, sweet dessert variety. By contrast, other countries grow and eat bananas with a firmer, starchier fruit, called plantains or cooking bananas. The terms 'plantain' and 'banana' in these countries are widely interchangeable which means you need to be careful when asking for a banana - you never know which one you might get.

The banana plant is a very large flowering plant and is often mistaken for trees. Their main 'trunk' is actually a pseudo-stem that grows almost 25 feet tall. Each pseudo-stem can produce a single bunch of bananas, which actually grow point up rather than hanging down, making them look upside-down.

Bananas are slightly radioactive due to their high potassium content with a naturally occurring isotope, potassium-40. Proponents of nuclear power sometimes refer to the 'banana equivalent dose' of radiation to support their arguments for safe nuclear power.

Nutritional Value

Bananas are a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, potassium, and iron. One new catch phrase, probiotic "friendly" bacteria, is old hat to the banana; this fruit has been "friendly" to our digestive systems long before we heard the term. Along with other fruits and vegetables, consumption of bananas may be associated with a reduced risk of a variety of cancers, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer.

Some studies have found that banana ingestion may increase the 'feel good' chemicals, dopamine and serotonin, in the brain. Other studies have shown positive results using bananas in the diet to treat jaundice and kidney stones. Many people who workout or play sports know the benefits of eating a banana after their workout is over. Bananas help prevent lactic acid from building up in the body after we quit exercising, preventing sore muscles. You can't go wrong with the humble banana when it comes to eating healthy.

Preparation and Cooking

If you can peel it, you can eat it. Every culture has numerous ways to eat bananas, from deep frying, baking in their skin, or even steaming with rice. Banana pancakes are a favorite of hikers along the Southeast Asian trails. When dehydrated, banana chips make for a great snack and can even be used as special treats to train dogs.

Bananas may be relegated to snack time or dessert time in many households, but try thinking outside that pie pan. Bananas can perk up a spinach salad with vinaigrette dressing like nobody's business. Grilled bananas can add a very interesting flavor and aroma as a side dish with grilled pork. Of course, you'll want to keep a bunch hanging around for your morning smoothie. There are countless ways to enjoy bananas daily.

Grab a bunch of bananas and begin to experiment with different recipes. Not only do bananas taste great, they offer a whole bunch, pun intended, of nutrients. Any time you feel tired, run down, exhausted after a workout, grab this easy snack and you'll feel better fast.

1 serving = 1/2 large banana

This easy to digest fruit is a good source of potassium. Bananas can helpt regulate blood pressure.

Peel, chop and freeze ripe bananas to have smoothie material always at hand.

Just mash bananas with a fork, freeze them and enjoy the easiest banana ice cream.

Bake whole bananas untile the skin darkens then slice the skin open and sprinkle brown sugar, chopped nuts and some whipped cream for adelicious dessert.

Banana Recipes

Fresh fruit: Tropical fruit with cinnamon rum - Tropical fruit and chicken salad - Banana custard pie.

Going bananas - musa acuminata, musa balbisiana (Musaceae) - banana chips, plantain, plantain chips, platano, platano macho.