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Want a great on the go nutritious treat, an out of the box dessert, or a power-up exercise snack? How about a banana? Not until the invention of the steamship did entrepreneurs begin sailing bunches of bananas north to curious North American consumers. Indigenous to Asia and the Middle East, this delicious, nutrient-packed fruit was first formally imported to the USA in 1870 by the Massachusetts ship captain, Lorenzo Dow Baker who shipped the tropical delicacy from Jamaica to Boston.

The connection between the importation of tropical fruit and New England makes sense, since, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many white men made their living as West Indian merchants, shipping slave-produced crops and enslaved people between tropical Caribbean islands and ports along the northeastern seaboard in what is now Canada and the USA. But the wider American debut of the banana came six years later at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia where a banana palm was displayed in the Horticultural Hall. (As a side note, this is the same exposition that featured Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and the internationally acclaimed black and indigenous American neoclassical sculptor Edmonia Lewis’ show-stopping sculpture, Death of Cleopatra [1876]).

While many of us now take the ubiquity of bananas for granted, most people lack any real knowledge about the goodness of this nutrient-dense fruit. Banana plants can grow quickly, reaching the full height of twenty to forty feet in nine months. The appearance of the crown of leaves is followed by a flowering stem and a large bud. The unfolding bud contains double rows of tiny flowers each of which becomes an individual banana or finger.

So, what’s in a finger? Well, according to Harvard’s T.H. Chan’s School of Public Health, the banana is a nutritious superfood that is largely undeserving of bad press. One serving, equivalent to a medium banana, contains around 110 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, 28 grams of carbohydrate, 15 grams of naturally occurring sugar, 3 grams of fibre, and 450 mg of potassium. It also contains vitamins B6, C, and E, calcium, folate, lutein, magnesium, and manganese. What can all that goodness do? According to Prof. David Nieman of Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory who published an uncompensated study testing bananas against Gatorade with male endurance cyclists, “The banana, we think, is like this wonderful athletic package where you get the sugars you need, you get the vitamins and electrolytes that the body likes during exercise, and this very unique molecule dopamine that can help with the oxidative stress, all at one third the cost of Gatorade.”

Now let’s talk eating! While most of us treat bananas as a great grab-and-go snack, you may be overlooking its other incredible possibilities. Cut one up as a topper for hot or cold cereal and yogurt, blend it into your next healthy milk or fruit juice to give a boost to your shake, add it to multigrain toast with almond butter or whip up some banana fritters or Raquel Fox’s Maria Jamaica Banana Bread. What about dessert, you ask? Add banana slices to your smores around your next campfire or to your ice cream sundae, and swap that almond butter for hazelnut spread if you’re feeling naughty. And why not whip up a heavenly banana flambé by adding some rum, lime juice, and vanilla.

Another blindspot is that many people overlook how the banana can be the star of your next breakfast, lunch, or dinner. As many Caribbeans, South Americas, and Africans know, bananas need not be eaten yellow. In fact, the green banana is a wonderful carbohydrate substitute for those of us who desire a break from rice. But the kind of green we’re talking about is not the green of the mainstream (white) grocery store. Instead, visit your local Caribbean, African or Latino market where they knowledgably import and sell the bananas at this much earlier stage. Besides having the nutrients of yellow bananas, green bananas are also rich in resistant starch and pectin which fill you up, improve digestion, and help to lower blood sugar.  Boil green bananas with a little salt and eat them with your morning eggs, mash the boiled bananas with butter and plate them alongside your favourite fish and veggies, or add them to your next savoury soup or stew instead of your go-to potatoes. Mix things up by serving roasted or fried green bananas at your next dinner party. Whether right out of the peel, blended, boiled or baked, as a snack or part of a meal, don’t forget to incorporate this delicious, powerhouse fruit into your healthy eating routine.

The Banana Palm in the Horticultural Hall of the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition