"There is nothing so delicious as a banana"
--Sir Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

§ Home § Search § FoodTales § Any comments?

Plantains and Bananas

(Musa paradisiaca)

The banana--a curious herb, and not a fruit at all--orginated in India. Arabs introduced it to the Near East and northern Egypt in 6 BC, but it must have died out as Alexander the Great, on his all-conquering sweep across the known world, was totally surprised to find such a strange plant growing in the Indus Valley in 327 BCE. Pliny the Elder wrote about them in the 1st century, referencing Alexander's discovery, and calling them "the fruit of the wise" after natives who were said to live on them exclusively. And Theophrastus elaborated the legend in the 4th century, saying wise men sat in the shade of the plants and grew smart from eating its fruit.

Portuguese explorers were surprised in the 15th century to find them growing on the west coast of Africa. In 1516, Spanish missionary Friar Tomas de Berlanga carried it from the Canary Islands to the New World--it landed in Haiti, but soon spread to Mexico.

Going in the other direction, bananas reached China by 200 AD, mentioned in Yang Fu's Encyclopedia of Rare Things...and then onward, so that Captain James Cook found them growing in Hawaii in the 18th century.

Sweet varieties are eaten out of hand and range in size and color dramatically. Cooking varieties, called plaintains, are not sweet at all, very firm and starchy