Strange Facts About Bananas

6 min read
Know Banana

What do we know about bananas? We know that bananas are good for you, and they are delicious, but for the most part, that is all we know about this popular fruit. In fact, there is a wealth of fascinating information about the banana.

We’re willing to bet you didn’t know the banana has a high place in religion, come in a variety of colors, and could have an interesting sex story. Read on to learn some not-so-well-known facts about the banana.

They Are Important To Hindus

Banana Sacred

We all enjoy a banana as a snack, but for committed Hindus, it can have much greater significance than that. The banana takes on a central role in much of Hindu belief, such as the Pontianak (called the churel in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), female spirits which are believed to live within banana trees, among other plants. (Note that despite the phrase “banana tree,” the banana plant is not actually a tree.) The tale of these ghosts derives from Malay mythology and describes Pontianak as women who died during pregnancy and who have returned from the dead to subject children and expectant mothers to particularly gory deaths, even ripping an unborn child straight from its mother’s womb.

This is a story gruesome enough to frighten anyone, but bananas also play a more positive role in the Hindu belief system, as the banana tree, or kadali, is seen as a symbolic representation of the Hindu goddesses Parvati and Lakshmi. The tree stands for eternal knowledge, known as Tatva Jnana, and the banana leaves that grow from it are symbols of calm.

They Aren’t Always Yellow

Banana Color

There are many different kinds of bananas, and while they all have roughly the same shape, they are not all yellow in color. There are estimated to be approximately 1,000 different kinds of bananas in the world, and these are split into 50 different groupings. The yellow one that we all know and love is a Cavendish type, but there are plenty of other kinds that are far less well-known to shoppers living in the US.

One example of this is the red banana, which has a dark red skin and is grown in Ecuador and Colombia. Another banana type with an unusual coloring is the Blue Java, which hails from Hawaii and is a distinctive blue hue before ripening. This type of banana is known for its extreme tolerance to cold weather and has been given the nickname “ice cream banana” because the ripe fruit tastes a lot like vanilla ice cream.

Lack Of Sex Is Killing Them

The banana is blessed with a decidedly phallic shape, but that doesn’t translate into a healthy sex life. The vast majority of the bananas that we can buy in our stores are part of the subgroup called Cavendish, and another thing that unites all of these bananas is that they are sterile. A wild banana is actually a massive herb found in jungle areas whose fruit contains large numbers of very hard seeds and is impossible to eat for that reason. The version that we are familiar with is a mutation of this wild banana in which the seeds fail to fully develop — which makes them ideal to eat but also means they can’t reproduce normally.  

In the past, farmers kept bananas from dying out by replanting cuttings to clone them, but their inability to reproduce normally has left them vulnerable to diseases and pests that plants can usually fight off through the genetic mutations that sexual reproduction creates. There is a historic example of a variety of banana being decimated in this way, as the most popular type in the West up until the 1960s was the Gros Michel—until it was almost entirely wiped out by Panama disease. Now the continued availability in our shops of the Cavendish strain is similarly threatened by the Black Sigatoka fungal disease, which attacks the plants through the leaves.

They Are Radioactive

As if the whole sterility thing wasn’t enough for the poor banana to have to cope with, they are also radioactive. Before we panic, though, it should be noted that radioactive energy surrounds all of us all of the time, with the average person in the US being exposed to approximately 360 millirems every year—which adds up to 36 X-rays. The vast majority, around 200 millirems, is absorbed via the odorless and colorless radon gas that is all around us as a result of uranium and radium breaking down.

Another source of radiation is food – because living things need potassium to be able to survive, and one in every 8,550 potassium atoms is a radioactive potassium-40 isotope. This means that everything we eat is exposing us to some degree of radioactivity, but bananas are especially high in this because they contain greater amounts of potassium than most other foods. It is nothing to worry about, as you would need to eat 20 million of them—around 700 per day over a lifespan of 80 years—to achieve the sort of dosage that can cause life-threatening radiation poisoning. Frankly, if you try to eat 700 bananas every day, it is not likely to be radiation that kills you.

They Are Really, Really Old

The cultivation of the banana plant appears to go back a very long way indeed, with evidence uncovered by researchers exploring Papua New Guinea’s Kuk Swamp dating it back to 5000 BC—and perhaps even further back to 8000 BC. This would represent the earliest known example of banana cultivation anywhere in the world. The researchers working at this site found a large number of pits with post-holes, stake-holes, and other features associated with plant cultivation and harvesting. They concluded from this that these pits were used for growing a variety of different plants that were found within the area of study, one of which is the Musa banana plant.

Musa ingens is known to be indigenous to many parts of Papua New Guinea’s highlands, including Minj Valley, Kamang, Mount Piora, and Aiyura, which would seem to further support the possibility of banana cultivation there dating back that far. This particular variety of banana plant is the single largest herb that we know of at over 18 meters (59 ft) in height.

They Don’t Have As Much Potassium In Them As People Think

Banana Nutrition

There is a widespread belief that bananas contain more potassium than virtually any other foodstuff, but, in fact, one medium-sized banana will give you just 422 milligrams of potassium when eaten raw. This does still put them pretty high up on the list of potassium-rich foods, but also means that many other fruits and vegetables offer a higher dose of this vital nutrient, such as raw spinach, dehydrated apricots, dehydrated and stewed peaches, and raw cress.

The amount of potassium found in a banana will provide us with 9% of the recommended adequate intake of 4,700 milligrams. Potassium has a range of health benefits that include supporting the functions of our nerves and muscles, getting nutrients to the cells in the body, and keeping our blood pressure at a normal level. So with another 91 percent to make up, we should probably try to develop a taste for raw spinach

Avoid Them If You’re Allergic To Latex

Those who have an allergy to latex are advised to stay away from bananas as well, as they can experience an adverse reaction to them. One study found that 8 of 16 latex-allergic patients suffered ill effects after they ate bananas. When the participants in the same research study were tested with banana skin pricks, 5 out of 14 (36 percent) experienced a negative reaction, while 12 of 19 (63 percent) suffered a reaction as a result of banana RAST testing.

Bananas are just one of the fruits, alongside kiwis and avocados, which produce this reaction. The reason for it is believed to be that the fruits in question contain a number of the same proteins that are found in latex and trigger the allergies. Potential symptoms include wheezing, itchy eyes, and a blocked-up nose.