The most familiar of the tropical fruits, bananas are in abundant supply at moderate prices twelve months of the year. The top exporters of bananas are the Central American countries of Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador, and Panama, but bananas are grown in tropical areas all over the world.
Bananas grow in clusters called "hands" that usually include twelve to fourteen bananas, these in turn grow on huge stalks of seven to twelve hands on a plant that's actually an enormous, treelike herb. Because they ripen best off the tree and are fragile and easily bruised when ripe, bananas are shipped green and usually arrive at the market with a fair amount of green still showing.
There are special varieties of banana that include red-skinned and miniature versions, but the main difference you'll find in them is their high price, not their flavor or texture.
Bananas are available year round.
For the best eating, choose firm, unscarred bananas that are greenish to greenish yellow and ripen them at home. A golden yellow banana is ripe and fragile, and the flesh may be bruised even though you can't see bruises on the skin. Don't buy bananas if they're grass green, they may deteriorate without ever ripening, especially if they've been exposed to cold temperatures. And don't be afraid of bananas with brown specks on the peel, these are loaded with sugar and taste great.
For use in the fruit bowl, try buying bananas at various stages of ripeness, from fairly green to greenish yellow. That way you'll be able to keep up with the fruit. Once fully ripe, bananas deteriorate fairly rapidly, if necessary, refrigerate fully ripe fruit. Refrigeration will turn the skin an unappetizing black, but it won't really harm the fruit inside.
Other than simply peeled and eaten or sliced on cereal, peeled bananas are great pierced with a stick, dipped in chocolate, or frozen. Also try them sliced and sauteed briefly in butter and brown sugar (and a little rum if you wish), then serve over ice cream. Overripe bananas are perfect for baking in banana-nut bread, banana cake, or muffins - even when the skins are nearly all black.
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