Bananas - you can eat them plain for a tasty, nutritious snack or use them in dishes such as the Gujarati undhiyu (a dish of vegetables and raw bananas, slow-cooked in an earthen pot) or the South Indian banana errisery (raw bananas cooked in Indian spices). Their popularity cannot be denied and neither can we ignore how crucial the fruit is to India, which is its largest producer.*
The National Horticulture Board of India (NBH) puts it perfectly in this report - "[Banana's] year-round availability, affordability, varietal range, taste, nutritive and medicinal value makes it the favourite fruit among all classes of people." Of all the qualities that NBH attributes to bananas, "varietal" is the most important, and forms the basis of this episode of The Real Food Podcast.
From Tamil Nadu's rasthali and Maharashtra's safedvelchi to Kerala's palayankodan and Gujarat's basrai, there are a number of different types of bananas that India's agricultural industry produces every year. However, you will hardly come across these variants at your local fruit market. Instead, you will find that markets are overrun with big, golden bananas, which are known as the Cavendish.
Why should we care about this, you ask? Kainaz Messaman Harchandrai, of the bakery chain Theobroma, dishes up the perfect reason. She tells Vikram Doctor about how one of her most popular desserts - the banana cake - has suffered over the years because the bananas that she gets now (the Cavendish) have "absolutely zero flavour."
The reason that the indigenous varieties of India are disappearing from the market is purely commercial. With the help of Dan Koeppel, a columnist and the author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, Vikram traces the evolution of the banana from a simple tropical fruit to an industrial product in the West, and finds out how this may help understand what is happening in India.
It is time, Vikram says, that we start start caring a bit more about this fruit, which the NHB calls the second most important fruit crop in India, and wake up to the many delicious varieties that our country has to offer.
*According to the numbers available from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). The latest statistics, which we downloaded from FAO's statistics division, put the production of bananas in India at 27.5 million tonnes, which accounts for a fourth of the entire world's output.
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