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Types of Bananas

Types of Bananas

They’re one of the most iconic fruits of all time, with their flashy color and funny shape inspiring everything from catchy songs to kitschy fashions to comedy routines.

And even if you’ve never worn them, laughed at them, or sung their praises, we can nearly guarantee you’ve tasted one.

So we’d understand if you already think you know everything there is to know about bananas, but there’s so much more to see about the ubiquitous fruit – if you only keep your eyes peeled.

Going Bananas

It seems even Earth itself can’t get enough of bananas: from Caribbean Islands to African jungles, there’s hardly an environment where the fruit seems out of place.

But it all has to start somewhere, and for bananas, that Adam and Eve is the slightly-harder-to-pronounce Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, the two varieties of wild bananas responsible for nearly every edible cultivar we have today.

Scientists think the species may have started in Papua New Guinea, where evidence of bananas has been found at archeological sites dating all the way back to 10,000 BC.

But the Musa couple has proved a prolific pair, and today, different types of bananas are grown in 135 countries – and are responsible for feeding billions of people a day.

So How Many Types of Bananas Are There?

Well, that’s an interesting question. And it all depends on your definition of banana.

The debate has been raging in the world of curvy yellow fruits for centuries, started by the father of modern-day taxonomy himself, Carl Linnaeus. 

When coming up with his official classifications for different types of bananas, Linnaeus broke the fruit down into two types: “bananas” and “plantains.”  The main designation, he argued, was how the fruits were prepared for eating, with starchier plantains requiring some cooking and bananas mostly eaten raw. 

But that simple structure soon fell under its own weight, when later scientists found themselves contemplating the idea of “dessert bananas,” “cooking bananas” and “plantains,” though some plantains were also cooking bananas and some dessert bananas were really plantains.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself that this banana beef couldn’t possibly get any more strange or confusing, we here to reassure you: It can. And it does.

We’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, regardless of how you classify them, there are at least 1,000 different types of bananas commercially grown today. 

But since typing out a list that long would be even crazier than typing out the whole history of the great banana debate, we’ve stuck to some of the most popular and interesting kinds of bananas below. 

Just don’t expect to see any plantains on the list. We respect Carl Linnaeus too much for that.

Cavendish Bananas

If Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana started the banana revolution, Cavendish has become their heir apparent. Which makes it doubly appropriate that this type of banana is named after royalty: William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, who was apparently a big fan.

William got his first dish in the 1850s, but the Cavendish wouldn’t really have its day in the sun until 100 years later, when they became—and stayed—the most widely-traded banana on the planet. (Those yellow things you get at the grocery store? Very high odds they’re a Cavendish.)

Still, as is the case with many royal appointments, it took a tragedy for Cavendish to ascend the banana throne.

The world previously went bananas over a species called Gros Michel, thanks to the thick skin and long shelf-life that made it perfect for shipping. But a devastating plague called Panama disease knocked the varietal nearly out of existence in the 1950s.

Cavendish became the go-to variety as the cultivar shared many of the same benefits of the Gros Michel, plus was grown in the same type of soil, leading many to believe it was resistant to the deadly disease.

Sadly, that theory has been tested recently, with Panama disease scares among Cavendish crops popping up in 2008 and as recently as 2019 with no fungicide in site to fight off the illness. 

Apple Bananas

If you’ve been lucky enough to travel around Southeast Asia or the Pacific islands, you’ve likely encountered this unique banana cultivar. 

Apple bananas can be immediately identified by their stunted, stubby shape – though they’re anything but short on flavor. 

Grown primarily in Hawaii, Central America and Southeast Asia, the banana varietal is a favorite for its tender flesh and sweet taste, which starts out something tangier when the fruits are young but develops into full-blown tropical paradise as they ripen, carrying notes of strawberry and pineapple.

It’s a good thing they’re so small, because you’ll want to eat a whole bunch of them. 

Blue Java Bananas 

Arguably the most unique banana of all, this varietal is true to its colorful name, sporting a brilliant skin that can range in hue anywhere from silver to turquoise.

The tint is the result of a genetic mutation, but Blue Java Bananas are far from grotesque. In fact, they boast one of the banana world’s most delicious insides, as well, with a custardy texture and vanilla taste that earn the cultivar its most popular nickname: the ice cream banana. 

Red Bananas

Not to be outdone by their blue and yellow cousins, red bananas bring their own tint to the banana world, wearing a peel that reads as anything from a blush pink to a deep maroon. 

The pop of color has been attributed to the amount of vitamin C and iron found in this type of banana, with the darker examples said to have more of the nutrients in their skin.

Still, red bananas—which come primarily from East Africa, South America and the Middle East—aren’t quite as extraordinary to eat as they are to behold. They often sport thicker skins and a less potent taste than other types of bananas, though they’re known to be softer than Cavendish when fully ripened and have a longer shelf life.

Latundan banana

Named for a French clergyman who first brought the bananas back to Europe, this cultivar is truly heavenly.

Latundans look similar to apple bananas, thanks to their smaller, stouter size, though the produce hardly makes it overseas due to their thinner skin, which make them less desirable for shipping. 

But it’s their uniquely tart taste that really makes them stand out - and keeps this varietal as one of the most popular types of bananas in Southeast Asia.

Lady Finger Bananas 

This cultivar has cultivated a number of nicknames, from sugar banana to fig banana to date banana – all thanks to its noted sweetness.

That saccharine quality has also earned this varietal a number of fans, though the banana’s thin skin makes it less suitable for long-distance shipping. 

Still, the slender and spotted cultivar – as graceful looking as its namesake – remains plenty popular in places where it can be found, like in Cambodia, where its nickname is chek pong moan, which translates in English to “chicken egg banana.”

And it only begs the question: What came first, amazing bananas or weird facts about amazing bananas?

Don’t ask us – we’re still not sure.

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