By Harold McGee
Thanks to their productivity and starchy nutritiousness, bananas and plantains top the roster of world fruit production and trade. The worldwide annual per capita consumption is almost 30 lb/14 kg, and in regions where they’re a staple food, individuals consume several hundred kilograms per year. Bananas and plantains are the seedless berries of a tree-sized herb related to the grasses, Musa sapientum, which originated in the tropics of Southeast Asia. A banana plant produces a single flower structure with from 1 to 20 “hands” or fruit clusters, as many as 300 “fingers” of individual fruit, each fruit weighing from a couple of ounces to 2 lb/50–900 gm. The characteristic curve of long fruits develops because the fruit tip grows upward, against the downward pull of gravity. Bananas and plantains are climacteric fruits, store their energy as starch, and convert some or most of that starch to sugar during ripening. In the dramatic case of the banana, a starch-to-sugar ratio of 25 to 1 in the mature but unripe fruit becomes 1 to 20 in the ripe fruit.