I try and do a fair bit of research before I write an article, and usually find the process interesting and challenging. The other day, while eating a banana, I started to wonder about the science behind the most popular fruit in the world.
Bananas account for roughly 75 percent of the tropical fruit trade, and more than a hundred billion are eaten annually. I speculated what the process would be, to get bananas from the vine into my kitchen, because they certainly don’t grow anywhere in North Durham. Not to mention, the nature of the process, I’m sure makes it time-sensitive.
Getting ripe bananas to market is a surprisingly intricate process. Facilities, unique to the industry, control the ripening stage to ensure bananas are the ideal green or yellow when they reach stores, depending on consumer preference.
What I did not know was, bananas are botanically classified as a berry. The word banana comes from the Arabic word meaning finger. Unlike seasonal fruits, bananas grow year-round on flowering herbaceous plants. In fact, they are the largest herbaceous flowering plant in the world, reaching heights of 3 metres (10 feet), or more.
I think most of us know bananas grow in bunches, however I was surprised to learn there are about a 150-180 bananas on a bunch and it takes 9 months for one bunch to grow. Fortunately they’re grown in 150 countries, making them very plentiful.
There are over a thousand varieties of bananas, and I’ll bet many of you are unaware, the most popular variety of bananas is the Cavendish type. Although most everybody loves bananas, India, China, Brazil and Indonesia account for more than 50% of the world’s consumption. Rwanda, of all countries, consumes the most bananas per capita at 279 kg (616 lbs.) a year. This is 30 times more than North America does.
Advances in refrigerated transportation has helped bananas become the world’s most traded fruit.
Many supermarkets price them at or near cost, called a loss leader, to get customers into their stores. Once harvested, the bananas are transported to packing sheds, where they are inspected, washed and boxed for export.
To prevent them from ripening in transit, pallets of bananas are shipped in refrigerated containers, en route to the busiest banana port in the world, which is in Antwerp, Belgium. They have a 5 day cycle to get them to grocery stores, so they still look slightly green and very edible.
The next time you reach for a nice yellow banana, remember, you are eating one of 100 billion fruits… with great a-peel.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.