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Why we're all going bananas


They’re healthy, cheaper than ever and, believe it or not, they’re not actually a fruit. Kate Colquhoun reports

The banana has never been a more popular part of our diet. We spend millions of euro every year on the curvy yellow herb. Yes! It's not, strictly speaking, a fruit at all. And according to reports this week, our favourite “fruit”' has never been cheaper.

The world's favourite “fruit” is now our most popular foodstuff, uniquely portable and with apparently legion health benefits. Rich in iron, it is the perfect prophylactic against anaemia and (if you can face it) rubbing the inside of its skin over your body is said to repel mosquitos. It may stave off depression, can mollify morning sickness and hangovers, and its B6 and B12 vitamins may even help you give up smoking. Old wives’ tales would even have us believe that they can help us remember our dreams.

Researchers have now proved that just two bananas, packed with their three natural sugars – fructose, sucrose and glucose – plus their fibre and carbohydrate content, can provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout, delivering an instant, sustained and substantial boost with a trifling calorie count of 107. They are scoffed by tennis pros on centre court. Compared to the lunchtime apple, the banana is also more of a man-food.

Bananas arrived here for the first time during the Restoration, shipped from Bermuda. Bananas really came of age in the 1930s. Part of a campaign to Eat More Fruit, they were adored by Riviera-chic hostesses who poached them with meringues and caramel creams. But just as cooks were getting used to them, they disappeared.

From the outbreak of the Second World War, bananas were so rare as to remain strange miracles to children.

Then, in the 1950s, refrigerated steam shipping revolu-tionised the banana's potential for transport and transformed the economies and politics of central America.

As technology became the engine of change in Irish kitchens, recipe books from manufacturers such as Kenwood promised to save time, energy and money, to transform boring basic vegetables into cream soups and bananas and tinned pineapple into milkshakes. It was the age of that party favourite – banoffee pie, invented in the early 1970s.

When home-cooked curries took off a few years later, none would appear without its sliced bananas.

Though we nowadays eat it raw more often than we cook it, the banana has become the world's most exported food.

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With the EU considering renewed tariffs on Latin American bananas, price hikes may just be round the corner, but the banana remains one of the best-value foods around. Dieters and diabetics should go easy but, it may be time to take renewed advantage of this acme of wonder foods. ‘Taste: the Story of Britain Through its Cooking’ by Kate Colquhoun will be published by Bloomsbury in October.

Banana splits

1. One banana has 16pc of the fibre, 15pc of the vitamin C, and 11pc of the potassium we need every day.

2. They are 75pc water.

3. Many cultures see bananas as a “cooling” fruit. In Thailand, pregnant women eat bananas to ensure their baby is born with a cool temperature.

4. Bananas are harvested every day of the year.

5. While opinion varies as to the optimum amount to eat per day, at least one is recommended as they contain all the 8 amino-acids our body can’t produce itself.

6. The banana plant is not a tree, but a giant plant of the same family as lilies.

7. They are the world’s most exported food.

8. According to research in The New England Journal of Medicine, eating bananas as part of a regular diet can cut the risk of death from strokes by as much as 40pc.

9. Banana milkshake, sweetened with honey, is one of the quickest ways to cure a hangover.

10. There are about 400 varieties.

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