Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Amazing Banana

The other night, while glued to Iron Chef America (Battle Banana) and snacking on a new banana-riffic treat, and I had a flash of inspiration. Why not write a post dedicated to bananas and their sweet, sticky, sunny, giraffe-spotted fabulousity?

Banana plant from my trip to Jamaica

After all, I love bananas. When asked to name my favorite foods, sure, I’ll spout a list of indulgent treats like chocolate, cheese, sushi, and filet mignon. But bananas are a staple food in my kitchen. I eat one nearly every day. Bananas powered me through my first half marathon--I ate one before, with oatmeal and peanut butter, and one afterward. And I've been known to make “emergency” trips to the grocery store--sometimes in the wee hours of the morning--because ohmygosh-I’m-out-of-bananas!

As it turns out, there are a lot of reasons to love bananas. Besides being tasty are nutritional powerhouses, bananas are highly useful, comedic (think of animated antagonists slipping and sliding on discarded banana peels). In some cultures, bananas are regarded for their medicinal and symbolic properties.

Fun Facts:
  • The banana plant is not a tree--it’s the world’s largest herb. [Source]
  • Bananas come in a variety of colors, including yellow, purple, and red. Jungle Jim’s is the best place in Cincinnati to find exotic bananas (if you visit, be sure to pose for a picture with the giant banana at the entrance).
  • Banana flowers (“hearts”) are used as a vegetable in some South Asian cuisines. They taste similar to artichokes.
  • Banana leaves are waterproof. In southeast Asian countries, they are often used as food containers.
  • Steaming banana leaves with a dish lends a slightly sweet flavor. During Battle Banana, Bobby Flay steamed tamales in banana leaves (yum!).
  • Other uses for the banana plant include textiles and paper. [Source]

Banana Flower

Nutritional Benefits:
  • A medium (7-8”) banana contains approximately 105 calories, 3 grams of fiber (12% DV), and only 1 mg of sodium. Each medium banana also contains 12% DV of potassium, 17% DV of Vitamin C, and 22% DV of Vitamin B6. [NutritionData]
  • Because they are extremely high in potassium and low in sodium, bananas can help to fight high blood pressure.
  • Bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, which helps elevate our mood.
  • Bananas are high in B vitamins, which help to regulate blood glucose levels and calm the nervous system.
  • Eating a banana is an excellent, natural way to replenish electrolytes after intense exercise. [Source]
Buying and Storing Bananas:
  • Choose bananas that are firm, slightly green, and without bruises. Avoid bananas with a gray tint or dull appearance--they’ve been refrigerated and won’t ripen properly.
  • Once ripe, bananas can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The skins will turn black, but the fruit will remain at the perfect stage of ripeness.
  • Wait to refrigerate bananas until they ripen--once bananas have been refrigerated, they won’t ripen properly when brought back to room temperature.
  • Bananas ripen quickly because they release a lot of ethylene gas. If you want to speed the ripening process, you can place them in a brown paper bag with an apple.
  • Bananas too ripe? Peel them, cut them into chunks, wrap them in plastic, and freeze. Frozen bananas lend a creamy texture and sweet flavor to smoothies. They're also great for baking, where you typically want very ripe, sweet bananas. [Source]
Bananas are fabulous eaten out-of-hand, sliced in cereal or over yogurt, or baked in banana bread, but why stop there? Here are a few of my favorite ways to use bananas...

Banana Pancakes

Peanut Butter, Greek Yogurt and Banana Parfait with Granola

Banana Daquiri

Overnight Oats

...and a kitchen experiment!

Banana “Ice Cream”

As an avid reader of many food and fitness blogs, I’ve been reading about this frozen banana soft serve everywhere. I’ve been holding off on on trying it, not because I was skeptical about its delicious factor, but out of fear my food processor would actually combust. But I was inspired by Battle Banana and its fearless combatants, and it was about 87 degrees in my apartment with the AC on, so I decided to give it a whirl.

Into the food processor went one of my precious frozen bananas...

...and I held my breath and let ‘er rip!

There were a few highly intense, counter-shaking moments, during which I held the food-processor down to keep it from bouncing itself onto the floor. And then, all the sudden, a miracle occurred and a sweet mound of yumminess appeared!

It’s no Aglamesis Brothers, people, and it probably couldn’t pinch-hit if I were really craving the real thing. I think you’d need to be a pretty hard-core banana lover like myself to really find it delicious (after all, it’s a straight-up, super-ripe banana). But it was still yummy, and either way, you gotta admit it’s pretty cool!

I added just a dash of cinnamon to mine, but my head is already spinning with possible variations and additions. Cocoa powder? Chocolate chips? Peanut butter? A sprinkle of sea salt? Toasted coconut?

What's your favorite way to eat bananas?

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