There is nothing like a slice of freshly baked banana bread; but to make the best banana bread, the bananas always need to be fully ripe and blackening to give the extra sweetness to it. Unfortunately, this means we cannot make banana bread without either waiting for them to ripen or by taking a shortcut and accelerating the ripening process.
The banana is the fourth most popular agricultural product in the world and the most popular fresh fruit sold in the US – each of us eats an average of 11.4 lb per year. Nowadays, bananas only grow on US soil in Hawaii although they were once grown in Florida and southern California.
Although bananas came to America in centuries past, the quantities were very small, usually brought back by sailors who had returned from the Caribbean. In 1876, bananas were sold individually and wrapped in foil for the cost of 10 cents to American public who visited the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. This was probably the first time that any largescale import of bananas to the US had taken place.
It is believed by some that bananas were the first fruit on earth, originally found in South East Asia. The name banana is thought to have come from Africa, where the word banana derived from the Arabian word for ‘finger’. The scientific name for banana is musa sapientum – or ‘fruit of the wise man’!
Around 105 million tons of fruit from over 1000 different varieties of banana are produced annually from over 150 countries. Some of these are exported, while others are grown for local consumption as a staple food.
I have to say I was intrigued to find that bananas do not actually grow on trees – they grow on the world’s largest herb and belong to the same family as lilies and orchids. What looks like the trunk is actually made from leaves that are tightly overlapped.
This perennial herb quickly grows from a rhizome or bulb, reaching its full height of between 15 and 30 ft in just one year. Flowers appear in the plant’s sixth or seventh month of life and the bananas can be harvested within the first nine to 12 months. Bananas are available all year round and grow better in the tropical equatorial regions that have an average temperature of 80°F and annual rainfall of between 78 and 98 inches.
Bananas are often grown on large plantations especially in Latin America, and these types of intensive agricultural practices can destroy local ecosystems with the extensive land clearance and use of chemicals - some of which are known to be toxic. Because there is often only one variety of banana grown, usually the Cavendish, this also increases the risk of banana plantations succumbing to disease or pests.
Choosing organic bananas means the bananas are sourced from plantations or small scale growers that have healthier agricultural practices with less use of pesticides and fertilizers. If these are also Fairtrade certified bananas, it means that the workers are not only working in a better environment, but they are also getting paid more money.
The Banana as a Healthy Snack
An average 4 oz banana is fat, sodium and cholesterol free; contains around 0.85 oz net carbs (sugars) and around 0.11 oz of fiber in the form of pectin and resistant starch. The sugars in bananas are natural sucrose, fructose and glucose and just one banana a day contributes to our recommended daily intakes of vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium, manganese, magnesium and copper.
The potassium in bananas plays a role in various functions in our bodies. It helps maintain levels of fluid in our bodies and regulates the movement of nutrients and waste in and out of our cells. It may also help reduce the risk of age-related kidney stones and maintain a healthy heartbeat.
Bananas also contain pectin and it is this pectin which gives the fruit its spongy form. This pectin, along with the resistant starch found in unripe bananas can help regulate blood sugar levels after meals and reduce appetite in healthy people. This benefit is also reflected in the low to medium ranking for bananas on the glycemic index (GI); with unripe bananas having a GI value of around 30 and ripe bananas of around 60.
As we are talking about quickly ripening bananas in this article though, I do feel obliged to point out that the amount of pectin in a banana does decrease as a banana ripens!Although not as sweet as the fruit, banana skin is also edible and rich in vitamins B6, B12, magnesium and potassium. You can put ripened peels in a blender with the fruit or cook or fry them up. Just make sure you wash them well first to remove any traces of chemicals from the plantation.
Commercial Ripening of Bananas
Bananas are known as a climacteric fruit because they are harvested when they are green and then can continue to ripen depending on what climate they are in – such as the grocery store shelf or your kitchen.
Because bananas are picked when green to help prolong their shelf-life – it can take around 10 to 15 days for bananas picked in Columbia to reach the US – they are placed into climate-controlled chambers and exposed to trace levels of ethylene gas (C2H4) before they are distributed for sale in markets and grocery stores a few days later.
Known as ethylene-treated bananas, these are no different to bananas allowed to ripen naturally and this post-harvest ripening with ethylene is allowed in the US - even on bananas labelled as organic.
As many bananas across the US and the world are ripened this way, the odds are pretty high that the bananas you are ready to quickly ripen have been ethylene-treated. There is no way to tell how a banana has been ripened and in terms of food-safety, there is no difference at all between ethylene-treated bananas and naturally ripened bananas.Ethylene is also the reason why bananas should be stored away from other fruits as bananas can speed up the ripening/aging of other fruits. Apples, melons and pears are particularly at risk as these fruits are very sensitive to ethylene.
Natural Ripening in the Home
To ripen bananas normally in the home you can remove them from any packaging and leave them near a heat vent or in a sunny position on the countertop. Depending on the temperature and how green the bananas are, it will take up to four or five days to fully ripen bananas in this way.
If you want to keep your bananas under-ripe for longer, store them out of sunlight and away from other fresh fruit and vegetables. You should also take them out of their plastic wrapper as the plastic will keep the ethylene contained, although you can actually re-use some of this plastic by wrapping it around the stems to reduce the oxygen supply to the bunch – this will delay ripening.
Once the bananas are fully ripe you can put them in the refrigerator as this will slow down further ripening. The skin may go black, but this will not affect the flesh inside – it should still be sweet and firm.
However black the skin is on your bananas, or how soft they are, as long as they are not moldy or have any traces of fruit flies on them, they are usually still edible and safe to eat.If, however, you want your bananas ripe so that you can make banana bread today rather than in two days’ time, then by following this step by step tutorial you will be able to ripen your bananas so that they are ripe enough for baking within 30 minutes or so.
What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial
- A bunch of yellow firm bananas – left unpeeled – they need to be yellow as this means the starch is converting to sugars
- A sheet pan – you may want to line it as well
- The oven – prewarmed to around 300°F
As well as using the oven to quickly ripen bananas, you can also use the freezer. If you place bananas in the freezer for a few hours it will blacken the skins, but the bananas themselves will not soften or sweeten as they would at room temperature or in the oven. This usually means that more sugar has to be added to the recipe to compensate for the lack of sweetness.
You can also freeze room ripened bananas unpeeled so that next time you want to bake, you can take them out of the freezer, defrost, peel and mash into your cake batter. The skin will also be black on these, but it will not affect the fruit at all. Banana which has been frozen will need to defrost for around an hour at room temperature before you use it.
Some people have had success using a microwave for about 30 seconds to ripen an unpeeled banana. I once tried this and found that although the skin had blackened, the fruit itself was still too firm. I think the bananas do need to be riper for this method to work properly. Like freezing though, if you are successful in ripening quickly in the microwave, this method cannot sweeten the fruit, so you may need to add more sugar to your recipe to compensate.If you have some spare time before you want to bake, then you can place your bananas in a brown paper bag and close the bag up. You can also add an avocado or an apple to the bag and if you leave the bag in a sunny spot, the bananas should ripen either overnight or the following day. Unfortunately, like natural ripening, this method does need some forward time planning.
Step by Step Instructions
Step 1: Prepare the bananasCarefully remove each banana from the bunch and place it onto a sheet pan unpeeled. If there are any damaged bananas you may want to leave them off as the warming will accelerate the development of the damage as well as their ripening. You may also want to line the sheet pan in case any of the bananas burst.
Step 2: Ripen in the oven
Add the tray of bananas to your prewarmed 300°F oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the skin has turned black.Do keep an eye on the oven during this time as there is a risk of the banana skins bursting which can mean the fruit drying out or even burning.
Step 3: Remove from the oven
You can either leave the bananas out on the countertop to cool for 30 minutes or so, or you may want to move them to the refrigerator for faster cooling – it will usually depend on how soon you need them for your baking.
Step 4: Use
Once the bananas are cold, the easiest way to extract the fruit is by cutting the bottom end of the banana off – as low down as possible - and then squeezing the skin from the top downwards. This should squeeze the fruit straight out and into your mixing bowl. Depending on how soft they are, you may also be able to peel them in the normal way.
Do use your bananas soon after cooling – avoid leaving them in the fridge for long as they will start to go bad.
I hope that you have enjoyed this step by step tutorial on how to ripen bananas quickly, and that next time you fancy some fresh banana bread, you can just get on and bake it, rather than waiting for the bananas to ripen.
I do prefer to oven ripen bananas rather than leaving them to ripen naturally as I always find that when they are naturally ripe and ready to bake with, I no longer have the spare time to actually bake!If you enjoyed reading this, please share it with your friends, and I would also love to have your thoughts on ripening bananas quickly. Do you use the oven, or do you find the microwave better? Or are you lucky enough to have another tried and tested method that has not been mentioned here? Do leave me your comments below.