A banana is an edible fruit – botanically a berry – produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa. In some countries, bananas used for cooking may be called “plantains”, distinguishing them from dessert bananas. The fruit is variable in size, color, and firmness, but is usually elongated and curved, with soft flesh rich in starch covered with a rind, which may be green, yellow, red, purple, or brown when ripe. The fruits grow in clusters hanging from the top of the plant. Almost all modern edible seedless (parthenocarp) bananas come from two wild species – Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. The scientific names of most cultivated bananas are Musa acuminata, Musa balbisiana, and Musa × paradisiaca for the hybrid Musa acuminata × M. balbisiana, depending on their genomic constitution. The old scientific name Musa sapientum is no longer used.
Musa species are native to tropical Indomalaya and Australia, and are likely to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea. They are grown in 135 countries, primarily for their fruit, and to a lesser extent to make fiber, banana wine, and banana beer and as ornamental plants. The world’s largest producers of bananas in 2016 were India and China, which together accounted for 28% of total production.
Worldwide, there is no sharp distinction between “bananas” and “plantains”. Especially in the Americas and Europe, “banana” usually refers to soft, sweet, dessert bananas, particularly those of the Cavendish group, which are the main exports from banana-growing countries. By contrast, Musa cultivars with firmer, starchier fruit are called “plantains”. In other regions, such as Southeast Asia, many more kinds of banana are grown and eaten, so the binary distinction is not useful and is not made in local languages.
The term “banana” is also used as the common name for the plants that produce the fruit.This can extend to other members of the genus Musa, such as the scarlet banana (Musa coccinea), the pink banana (Musa velutina), and the Fe’i bananas. It can also refer to members of the genus Ensete, such as the snow banana (Ensete glaucum) and the economically important false banana (Ensete ventricosum). Both genera are in the banana family, Musaceae.
Farmers in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea first domesticated bananas. Recent archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence at Kuk Swamp in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea suggests that banana cultivation there goes back to at least 5000 BCE, and possibly to 8000 BCE. It is likely that other species were later and independently domesticated elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is the region of primary diversity of the banana. Areas of secondary diversity are found in Africa, indicating a long history of banana cultivation in the region.
Map stating that banana cultivation occurred in pre-Islamic times in India and Southeast Asia, during the 700–1500 CE “Islamic period” along the Nile River and in Mesopotamia and Palestine, and less-certainly in sub-Saharan Africa during that same period
Actual and probable diffusion of bananas during Islamic times (700–1500 CE)
Phytolith discoveries in Cameroon dating to the first millennium BCE triggered an as yet unresolved debate about the date of first cultivation in Africa. There is linguistic evidence that bananas were known in Madagascar around that time. The earliest prior evidence indicates that cultivation dates to no earlier than late 6th century CE. It is likely, however, that bananas were brought at least to Madagascar if not to the East African coast during the phase of Malagasy colonization of the island from South East Asia c. 400 CE.
The banana may also have been present in isolated locations elsewhere in the Middle East on the eve of Islam. The spread of Islam was followed by far-reaching diffusion. There are numerous references to it in Islamic texts (such as poems and hadiths) beginning in the 9th century. By the 10th century the banana appears in texts from Palestine and Egypt. From there it diffused into North Africa and Muslim Iberia. During the medieval ages, bananas from Granada were considered among the best in the Arab world. In 650, Islamic conquerors brought the banana to Palestine. Today, banana consumption increases significantly in Islamic countries during Ramadan, the month of daylight fasting.
Bananas were certainly grown in the Christian Kingdom of Cyprus by the late medieval period. Writing in 1458, the Italian traveller and writer Gabriele Capodilista (it) wrote favourably of the extensive farm produce of the estates at Episkopi, near modern-day Limassol, including the region’s banana plantations.
Bananas were introduced to the Americas by Portuguese sailors who brought the fruits from West Africa in the 16th century.
Many wild banana species as well as cultivars exist in extraordinary diversity in India, China, and Southeast Asia.
11 Amazing Benefits
Bananas Contain Many Important Nutrients
Bananas are among the most popular fruits on earth.
Native to Southeast Asia, they are now grown in many warmer parts of the world.
There are many types of bananas available, which vary in color, size and shape. The most common type is the yellow banana, which is green when unripe.
Bananas contain a fair amount of fiber, as well as several antioxidants. One medium-sized banana (118 grams) also contains:
Potassium: 9% of the RDI.
Vitamin B6: 33% of the RDI.
Vitamin C: 11% of the RDI.
Magnesium: 8% of the RDI.
Copper: 10% of the RDI.
Manganese: 14% of the RDI.
Net carbs: 24 grams.
Fiber: 3.1 grams.
Protein: 1.3 grams.
Fat: 0.4 grams.
Each banana contains only about 105 calories, and consists almost exclusively of water and carbs. Bananas contain very little protein and almost no fat.
The carbs in unripe (green) bananas consist mostly of starch and resistant starch, but as the banana ripens, the starch turns into sugar (glucose, fructose and sucrose).
Bananas Contain Nutrients That Moderate Blood Sugar Levels
Bananas are rich in a fiber called pectin, which gives the flesh its structural form .
Unripe bananas contain resistant starch, which acts like soluble fiber and escapes digestion.
Both pectin and resistant starch may moderate blood sugar levels after meals, and reduce appetite by slowing stomach emptying .
Furthermore, bananas also rank low to medium on the glycemic index, which is a measure (from 0–100) of how quickly foods increase blood sugar levels.
The glycemic value of unripe bananas is about 30, while ripe bananas rank at about 60. The average value of all bananas is.
This means that bananas should not cause major spikes in blood sugar levels in healthy individuals.
However, this may not apply to diabetics, which should probably avoid eating lots of well-ripened bananas and monitor their blood sugars carefully when they do.
Bananas May Improve Digestive Health
Dietary fiber has been linked to many health benefits, including improved digestion.
A medium-sized banana contains about 3 grams of fiber, making bananas a fairly good fiber source.
Bananas contain mainly two types of fiber:
Pectin: Decreases as the banana ripens.
Resistant starch: Found in unripe bananas.
Resistant starch escapes digestion and ends up in our large intestine, where it becomes food for the beneficial gut bacteria.
Additionally, some cell studies propose that pectin may help protect against colon cancer.
Bananas May Help With Weight Loss
No study has directly tested the effects of bananas on weight loss. However, bananas do have several features that should make them a weight loss friendly food.
For starters, bananas contain relatively few calories. An average banana contains just over 100 calories, yet it is also very nutritious and filling.
They are also rich in fiber. Eating more fiber from fruit and vegetables has repeatedly been linked with lower body weight and weight loss .
Furthermore, unripe bananas are packed with resistant starch, so they tend to be very filling and may reduce your appetite .
Bananas May Support Heart Health
Potassium is a mineral that is essential for heart health, especially blood pressure control.
Yet despite its importance, most people are not getting enough potassium in their diet .
Bananas are a great dietary source of potassium. One medium-sized banana (118 grams) contains 9% of the RDI.
A potassium-rich diet can help lower blood pressure, and people who eat plenty of potassium have up to a 27% lower risk of heart disease .
Furthermore, bananas contain a decent amount of magnesium, which is also important for heart health .
Bananas Contain Powerful Antioxidants
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of dietary antioxidants, and bananas are no exception.
They contain several types of potent antioxidants, including dopamine and catechins (1, 2).
These antioxidants have been linked to many health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease and degenerative diseases .
However, it is a common misunderstanding that the dopamine from bananas acts as a feel-good chemical in the brain.
In reality, dopamine from bananas does not cross the blood-brain barrier. It simply acts as a strong antioxidant instead of altering hormones or mood .
Bananas May Help You Feel More Full
Resistant starch is a type of indigestible carbohydrate found in unripe bananas, which functions sort of like soluble fiber in the body.
As a rule of thumb, you can estimate that the greener the banana is, the higher the amount of resistant starch it contains .
On the other hand, ripe (yellow) bananas contain lower amounts of resistant starch and total fiber, but proportionally higher amounts of soluble fiber.
Both pectin and resistant starch have been shown to have appetite-reducing effects and increase the feeling of fullness after meals .
Unripe Bananas May Improve Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance is a major risk factor for many of the world’s most serious diseases, including type 2 diabetes.
Several studies have shown that 15–30 grams of resistant starch per day may improve insulin sensitivity by 33–50%, in as little as 4 weeks .
Unripe bananas are a great source of resistant starch, and may therefore help improve insulin sensitivity.
However, the reason for these effects is not well understood, and not all studies agree on the matter .
Bananas May Improve Kidney Health
Potassium is essential for blood pressure control and healthy kidney function.
As a good dietary source of potassium, bananas may be especially beneficial for maintaining healthy kidneys.
One study in women showed that over 13 years, those who ate bananas 2–3 times per week were 33% less likely to develop kidney disease.
Other studies have found that those who eat bananas 4–6 times a week are almost 50% less likely to develop kidney disease, compared to people who don’t eat bananas .
Bananas May Have Benefits for Exercise
Bananas are often referred to as the perfect food for athletes, largely due to their mineral content and easily digested carbs.
Eating bananas may help reduce exercise-related muscle cramps and soreness, which affect up to 95% of the general population.
The reason for the cramps is basically unknown, but a popular theory blames a mixture of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
However, studies have provided mixed findings about bananas and muscle cramps. Some find them helpful, while others find no effects .
That being said, bananas have been shown to provide excellent nutrition before, during and after endurance exercise .
Bananas Are Easy to Add to Your Diet
Not only are bananas incredibly healthy — they’re also one of the most convenient snack foods around.
Bananas make a great addition to your breakfast yogurt, cereal or smoothie. You can even use them instead of sugar in your baking and cooking.
Furthermore, bananas rarely contain any pesticides or pollutants, due to their thick protective peel.
Bananas are incredibly easy to eat and transport. They are usually well-tolerated and easily digested, and simply have to be peeled and eaten.