Bananas have been called "the world's most perfect fruit." They're high in potassium, low in fat, and a good source of vitamins and fiber. They're also one of the few fruits available year round. Today's sweet yellow banana is a mutant strain of the plantain, a starchy red-green cooking banana that is boiled, fried, or ground for use in staple dishes worldwide. Bananas likely originated in Malaysia, though one of the first mentions dates to 327 B.C.E., when Alexander the Great discovered the fruit during his conquest of India. A Spanish friar brought the first banana roots to the Western Hemisphere in 1516, and the fruit was officially introduced to the U.S. public at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, where each banana was wrapped in foil and sold for 10 cents. By the early twentieth century, bananas had become the most valuable fresh fruit in world trade, a position they held until the 1970s.


Doing It Better

Sensitivity to environmental and social concerns has led to recent positive advances in the industry. Since the 1990s, the Rainforest Alliance has offered a seal of approval to banana farms that meet certain standards for sustainability, including in waste management, recycling, agrochemical use, and worker conditions. More than 15 percent of all bananas traded worldwide now come from Alliance-certified farms, including all of Chiquita's farms in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama. In Europe, sales of "fair-trade" bananas--which ensure that farmers earn a minimum price for their crop--have grown by 50 percent a year. In 2007, Co-op America launched a campaign to pressure U.S. stores to also carry the fruit. Some groups advise consumers to choose Caribbean bananas, which tend to be grown on small family farms that use more sustainable production methods and fewer chemicals.




Although referred to as a "tree," the banana plant is really the world's largest...

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