I know I often do this, but I strongly encourage readers to look over my August 24, 2014 post about plantains, since it covers a lot of information about bananas versus plantains, and my thoughts about bananas in general. With that in mind, I'll try not to repeat myself as much as is feasible.
Anyway, while at the Food Lion supermarket in central North Carolina the other day, I beheld some weird looking bananas. Specifically, red ones, and "baby" ones. It wasn't long before they were in my shopping cart. Both came from Ecuador.
As I touched on a bit in the plantain post, the classification of bananas is both complicated and somewhat controversial. Carl Linneus came up with a system back in 1753, and this was used for the next 200 years or so. However, in the late 1940's and 1950's scientists implemented some changes in this system, while some "OG" botanists and scientists still prefer the original Linneus plan. Long story short, the distinction between bananas and plantains is slight at best--much of it is based on how humans consume them--i.e. cook it as a starchy main course or side dish, or enjoy it raw as a dessert-type fruit. If you want more info, I encourage you to research this yourself, but be forewarned, it'll take quite a bit of time.
Accordingly, estimates of the total number of banana varieties range from 300 to over 1000. Some are yellow when ripe, while others are red, purple, green, or even brown. The world's biggest producers of bananas/plantains are India and China, with Ecuador in fourth place. The name "banana" itself is believed to have originated from the Wolof language, from a group of people who live in Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania. Their word is "banaana." (The Wolof language may also have given us the impetus for the words "yum" and "yummy," from their word "nyam"--evidently the "n" at the beginning is silent.) Also, my description of "unusual" for the red and baby bananas is based on my living in the U.S., where the yellow Cavendish (Dwarf Cavendish, to be exact) has been the most common type sold since the 1950's. Currently this type accounts for nearly half of the global banana production. In the first half of the 20th century or so, another variant, the Gros Michel, was the world banana king. Alas for it, Panama Disease devastated the plant, and the mostly resistant Cavendish took its place. It's thought that the Cavendish's days of prominence may be numbered too, though--its lack of genetic diversity means it's particularly susceptible to another disease or fungus. It could be wiped out rather quickly. (If you're curious, the Gros Michel banana variety is still grown, albeit in much smaller numbers. It's still prevalent in Malaysia and Thailand.) Furthermore, bananas are heralded as being THE best food source for potassium, but that's exaggerated. Some tomato sauces, cooked soybeans, grilled portabella mushrooms, baked potatoes, and spinach actually have more of this nutrient.
But here's what I thought:
1) Red banana: This was from the Dole company. It was slightly shorter than the average Cavendish, and maybe a little fatter. The outer rind was a deep reddish-purple, while the inner flesh was essentially the same as a regular Cavendish, being a cream or light yellow color. I thought it tasted basically the same as a Cavendish. I didn't do a blind taste test with a Cavendish as a control, but I doubt I would have noticed much of a difference. As I mentioned previously, I'm not a fan of bananas in general. Plus I think I have a minor allergy to them, since they sometimes give me a slight upset stomach/sore throat. Therefore, I was disappointed--I was hoping for a significant taste distinction, and received none. I won't be buying this one again. To be fair, maybe there is a difference if the red banana is cooked, but since I'm also not a fan of cooking, and am currently living in a hotel, this isn't going to happen.
2) Baby banana: As the name suggest, this one looks a tiny Cavendish, or a "Mini-Me" version. It's the same shape and yellowish-green color, but it's only 3-4 inches (about 7.5 to 10 cm.) long, and about an inch (about 2.5 cm.) in diameter. Alternate names for this variety are Ladyfinger and Pisang Mas. This came from the Del Monte company. Once again the taste was about the same as a regular Cavendish, much to my dismay. Maybe it was a tad sweeter, but not enough to matter. So I won't be purchasing this type again, either.
While I was reading up on red and baby bananas, other consumers stated that they thought they tasted sweeter, and/or had a "dense, creamy texture," with "vanilla and caramel undertones," and so on. Either these writers were a bit overly imaginative and pretentious, or my palate is dull and unrefined. (Or perhaps both.) But, all of this is coming from someone who admittedly doesn't like bananas much at all (but does, oddly, really enjoy plantains), so take this under consideration. If you really like this fruit, maybe you'll also appreciate different kinds of it. And maybe you'll even detect notes of creme brulee, toffee, and gossamer sugar in them.