There are some foods I figure will still be obtainable regardless how pricey things get in the coming years. In the Northern California area where I live, apple and citrus trees are a common fixture in almost every yard, front and back. So a lot of people here will have access to the fresh fruits they need and crave. Those who don’t grow the trees themselves can always barter for fruit with someone who does.
But what about bananas? That’s a fruit most of us have come to take for granted. Indeed, Americans eat as many bananas as they do apples and oranges combined. But unlike apples and oranges, bananas don’t grow well anywhere in the United States because a banana stalk requires fourteen months of frost-free weather in order to produce. We just don’t have that kind of climatic consistency here.
We Americans have to import nearly all the bananas we eat, which could easily make that very common fruit uncommonly expensive during a time of hyperinflation.
And now there’s more possible trouble on the horizon. The January 10th edition of The New Yorker magazine reports a devastating blight has already destroyed more than seventy percent of the banana crops on two continents. If that blight should spread to South America -and experts have every reason to presume it will- that bunch of yellow bananas we’re so accustomed to seeing on the kitchen counter could one day be nothing but a fond memory.
There are more than a thousand varieties of bananas throughout the world. The vast majority of these are starchy, flavorless, and nearly inedible. The bananas we’re used to eating here in America are a specific variety known as the Cavendish, popular the world over because of its flavor and its ability to ripen slowly, which enables it to be transported without bruising and helps it last longer in grocery stores than other varieties.
But beginning in the 1980’s, a disease called Tropical Race Four spread through all of Asia, destroying entire farms of Cavendish bananas on Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. Those toxins next jumped to Australia, decimating the once thriving banana industry on that entire continent. No one knows how to stop this blight; no chemicals can treat it. This mysterious destroyer spreads from stalk to stalk, causing banana trees to “switch on a certain mechanism in the plant and the plant actually kills itself.”
According to the piece in The New Yorker, agricultural scientists believe that Tropical Race Four “will ultimately find its way to Latin America -and to the fruit that Americans buy.”
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Randy Ploetz, a plant pathologist at the University of Florida, who was the first researcher to identify Tropical Race Four, said. “People are bringing stuff in their luggage, moving stuff around the world that they shouldn’t be. I hope it doesn’t happen, but history has shown that this kind of stuff does happen.”
Robert Borsato, an Australian banana farmer whose thousands of acres were destroyed by the disease, was more blunt. “Americans are snookered. They’d better wake up and realize it, or they’re not going to have any bananas to eat.”
It’s Not The First Time, But It Could Be The Last
When I was a youngster, my grandmother used to complain that bananas didn’t taste as good as they used to. I paid no attention to her; old people were always saying things like that.
Well, it turns out Grandma was right. Bananas did used to taste better. Up until the 1940’s, Americans were eating a completely different breed of banana than the ones we have today, a species known as the Gros Michel. It was sweeter and tastier than the Cavendish, and hardier, too, which made it even more ideal for the long transport by boat. Problem was, the Gros Michel species was itself wiped out by it’s own peculiar blight some 60 years ago, a disease dubbed Tropical Race One. Gros Michels disappeared from American imports, replaced by the Cavendish, which was considered the next best thing.
By all accounts, the Cavendish is an inferior banana compared to the Gros Michel, but Americans have gotten used to the blander taste of the Cavendish. To most of us alive today, this is the only way bananas have ever tasted. Like the Gros Michel, the Cavendish is one of the few breeds that can last weeks in transport without spoiling. Better tasting breeds of bananas do exist, but you’ve likely never had one because they ripen too quickly for transport and won’t last long enough on store shelves to be profitable. So for now, as far as fresh bananas go, the Cavendish is the only viable choice we’ve got.
One variety of banana that is somewhat sweeter than the Cavendish is the Cardaba. If you’ve spent any time in the Philippines, this is the banana you’ve eaten over there. The Cardaba is also healthier than a Cavendish. One Cardaba is nutritionally a perfect match for one potato, with high levels of potassium, magnesium, vitamins B and C, and of course fiber. The Cardaba is particularly well suited for dehydrating, since it’s an excellent cooking banana, and best of all, it is unaffected by the blight that is destroying the Cavendish. If you’ve tried eFoodDirect’s Tropical Fruit Medley, you’ve already tasted Cardaba bananas.
Do It Yourself—If You Dare
Some years ago I bought one of those kitchen counter food dehydrators with the plastic trays, and the family and I set out to make our own dried fruit. We successfully dehydrated trays of strawberries and sliced apples, but the bananas were a disaster. The banana slices turned to a hard, dried brown glue and the residue was stuck so firmly to the trays that I couldn’t soak or scrape it off. In addition to being welded on, the bananas were a mushy, sickly, unappetizing brown. And they tasted as bitter as they looked.
I now know why. Cavendish bananas are ill suited for dehydration. When you attempt to dehydrate a Cavendish banana, you dry all the color and the little bit of flavor right out of it. It’s pretty much ruined.
That’s why most dehydrated bananas are Cardaba bananas, because they start out with a strong, sweet flavor. Something else I didn’t know was that banana slices have to have a little coconut oil in the mix to keep them from turning brown and sticking, as well as a bit of cane sugar, as some of the natural sugars in bananas tend to escape during the drying process. The oil and sugar help the banana slices retain their golden yellow glow.
If I have to forgo the experience of eating ripe bananas in the future, it’s nice to know I can open a can of banana slices and eat them ready to go. If you’ve already tasted the eFoods Tropical Fruit Medley, you know how absolutely addicting that snack can be. I ordered myself an entire case and found myself dipping in so regularly that half of it was gone before I knew it. I had to hide what was left underneath several other cases of canned food so they wouldn’t be so easy for me to get to.
By then I had developed such a hankering for banana chips that I started seeking them out at supermarkets and specialty food stores. But I never found any that were near as good as the ones I got from eFoodsDirect. What’s worse, some of those banana chips were fried, not dehydrated, and almost all were cooked in cheap palm oil rather than the healthier -and tastier- coconut oil.
The best ones I tried were from Whole Foods Market, but even they weren’t as tasty as the banana chips I’d gotten from eFoodsDirect. Then one day I came to my senses and realized that by “saving” my Efoods bananas for later and buying extra batches locally, I was spending more than twice as much for an inferior product than I would be if I just went and bought more banana chips through eFoods. At around $9.00 for a big Number 10 can, that was less than half what I was paying for a comparable amount in the stores.
Plus, the bananas from eFoods are better for me. In addition to the sprinkling of coconut oil, the banana slices from eFoods are slightly sweetened with raw cane sugar, which is better than the common refined white sugar on the ones I had been getting locally.
I hope fresh, ripe bananas will always be plentiful, but in case they aren’t, I plan to have a case or two of banana chips on hand for the future. Along with a decent supply for snacking on right now.