Bananas are said to be currently the world’s third most popular fruit and evidence shows could be the oldest cultivated crop (Langdon 18). The tropical fruit is believed to have originated and first domesticated in Southeast Asia estimated around 5000 BC (Langdon 18). Due to how difficult reproducing the seedless banana plant is, the distribution did not stray far from Southeast Asia for thousands of years in its existence. Apparently the first Europeans to learn about it were the Greeks under the command of Alexander the Great during their conquest of India in 327 BC (Langdon 18).
The Banana then found its way across Europe to Portugal; who played a major role in the distribution of this fruit. In the 14th and 15th century’s, Portugal and Spain were becoming known as the gateway of foreign trade. Portuguese sailors brought the fruit from Western Africa to South America and the Caribbean. The banana plant grows best in warm tropical conditions, making Central and South America a premiere cultivation location. As different species and proper techniques of transport were discovered, the banana plant began to surface on markets in North America in the 19th century (Hays).
Bananas began trending and became increasingly popular in the United States following the conclusion of the Civil War. Unfortunately, the banana plant could not flourish as it did Central and South America due to cooler climates of the United States. This made the banana plant exotic and expensive, creating a vast demand and growth of banana production across Central and South America. In order to reproduce the banana plant, its rootstocks must be dug up, divided, and preferably dried for a while before replanting.
The banana plant thrives naturally on deep, loose, well-drained soils in humid tropical climates (Encyclopedia Britannica). The only drawback is the fruit’s extreme perishability, creating an enormous risk to anyone transporting the goods. A delay at sea could potentially mean a total loss. With the rise of technology, the United States ascended as a world power directly influencing a rise in the banana trade. After the Civil War, multiple American sea captains took a chance and occasionally were able to dash back to the United States from Latin America with a large cargo of bananas reaping massive rewards (De Los Reyes 147).
Over the past century after thorough research and new strategies, the banana transportation process has become much more reliable and productive. Currently the top banana growing countries are India, China, and Brazil, which are mostly consumed domestically and supply European and Asian demand. Most bananas imported into the United States comes from Central and South America, such as, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, and Columbia. Currently the United States imports more bananas than any other country (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Export bananas are picked green before the fruit is mature, and placed in special airtight rooms filled with ethylene gas to induce ripening upon arrival in the destination country. The fruit requires careful handling, rapid transport to ports, cooling, and refrigerated shipping to obtain maximum shelf life. The flavor and texture of the bananas are affected by ripening temperatures, which normally range between 56 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit during transport (Hays). The transportation process had to be perfected to due how popular bananas had become.
Bananas are among the most widely consumed foods in the world because of the capability to produce fruit year round. In smaller underdeveloped countries bananas are extremely valuable during what is called the, “hunger season. ” The hunger season is when the food from semi-annual harvests have been consumed, making bananas and plantains a critical factor in global food security. Properly cultivated, an acre of bananas can harvest up to 18,000 pounds (De Los Reyes 146). Bananas produce high yields from each harvest, are easy to grow at a low cost.
Banana tree cultivation is inexpensive because of the mother plants ability to constantly divide into multiple trees. Labor costs are cheap for third world countries and shipping costs of barge transports is inexpensive to the United States. Most producers are small-scale farmers who cultivate bananas for either consumption at home or local markets. In most tropical countries, unripe, green bananas are primarily used as a main cultivar of cooking. Bananas can also be cooked similarly to potatoes, such as, being baked, boiled, fried, or chipped.
Bananas hold a very significant importance culturally, economically, and politically on a global scale. Culturally it is a primary food source to many third world countries at a very inexpensive cost. Bananas are the number one fruit export in the world, worth $4 billion a year 80 million tons of bananas are produced around the world per year, and less than 20% are exported, with 15% going to the United States (Encyclopedia Britannica). With the vast amount of export, politically the globalization of bananas is very extensive. Money is spread through a multitude of people before consumption giving bananas a high importance in world markets.