Some bananas are sweeter than others. How is that?
Having purchased bananas many times, I had to ask myself, why are some bananas sweeter than others?
You pick up a bunch of small, curly, bright yellow bananas.¹ You take them home. On the way, you remove the one with the label. You peel it most of the way down. With a few quick bites, you finish it off.
The next time you go shopping, the display features large, straight bananas. Eventually you note that some bananas are sweeter and more flavorful. They are as starchy.
Bananas are grown for different uses. Some bananas (plantains) are fried in a skillet. Their starchiness is desirable. Others are sold for fruit. They are desirable for their sweetness and aroma. The latter are called dessert bananas. The most popular form of these is the Cavendish banana.
Processing the Cavendish Banana
Bananas do not grow on trees. They are herbaceous plants. Oddly, the banana is considered to be a berry. Dessert bananas are harvested in the mature green state. After shipping, they are ripened using ethylene gas.² This is performed in rooms that feature controlled humidity. This turns the bananas a bright yellow color. If temperatures are low, the bananas develop a gray tinge, indicating an inferior product.
Some Bananas are Sweeter
Since the U.S. banana found in most stores most commonly is the Cavendish, what makes the sweetness and flavor of one batch better than another?
Flavor and Sunlight
First, some bananas are much more curved than others. This is because bananas reach toward the sun. Bananas exposed to the sun are more curved than those receiving less sunlight.
Since sunlight is part of the maturing and ripening process, this could account for a marginal increase in sugar content and resulting fruit sweetness.
The Primary Factor
Most of the ripening does not occur on the plant. The bulk of the variance in color, flavor, sweetness, and texture comes from the processing at its ship-to location. Yes, some bananas are sweeter than others.
- Actually there are many varieties of banana or plantain. Here we discuss the classic eating banana.
- Bananas naturally produce ethylene gas. It would be unfair to suggest the commercial process is artificial.
- UC, Davis: Banana: Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality
- Purdue University: Banana
- Universiti Putra Malaysia: Plastid Ultrastructure…