Bananas are mainly consumed as a fresh fruit. Export bananas, mostly of the Cavendish variety, are also called “dessert” bananas. There is a multitude of recipes that include bananas as a basic element. However, in many developing countries, bananas of the different varieties are also a staple commodity, an essential component of many cooking dishes.
Exotic/ethnic bananas in export markets
There is an market niche that offers a trade alternative for exporters in developing countries. As developed countries consumers have become more sophisticated they show an increasing preference for new tastes, therefore demanding the presence of new varieties of bananas. This has resulted in a market for what can be called exotic or ethnic bananas. At present it is possible to find at speciality shops or supermarkets other varieties of bananas than the usual dessert bananas or Cavendish, such as red bananas, baby bananas, apple bananas or even plantains. There is a great potential for promotion of consumption of these new banana varieties and small banana producers can profit from the opportunities given by these new market niches. The initial increase in sales for new varieties may take place through the extensive travel of consumers from developed countries who experience the new flavours or through the ethnic minorities living in developed countries, which demand the presence in the market of these varieties from their native countries. At present, availability of different varieties of fruits is much higher than some years ago and some of the new varieties are no longer considered exotic once the consumer has become used to them. It is possible to find in the supermarket some new types of fruits that were not known just a decade ago and they are now considered as regular. Demand for these exotic products increases as the general consumers tend to be more familiar with them.
Processed banana food products
Through the proccessing of bananas it is possible to obtain dried bananas, also called banana “chips”, banana puree as the basis for baby food or for dairy products, banana flour and powder, banana juice or even banana alcohol (See Alcohol in East Africa, 1850-1999).
Apart from being a very important food product, banana products and by-products have other many different uses and applications:
It is used for handicraft and art in baskets, carpets and so on. The fiber is also used for the manufacturing of banana paper.
Bananas which do not arrive to fulfill quality requirements for export and banana waste may be used for animal feeding.
They are used for wrapping food when cooking in many countries.
In some cases, banana cultivation is used to give shade to other crops that need it, such are coffee or cocoa.
Banana production areas can be shown for tourism interests.
Bananas are considered to be good for the treatment of gastric ulcer and diarrhoea. Because they contain vitamin A, bananas and plantains act as an aid to digestion. Due to their high content of B6 vitamin, they help to reduce stress and anxiety. They are also considered benefitial for cancer prevention and heart diseases. The high content of carbohydrates makes of them a very good source of energy, for example, for people practising sports. Potassium helps to better brain fonctioning.
The change in consumer eating habits has given place to new preferences as consumers in developed countries have become more sophisticated and more exigent with the bananas they demand, as it has happened with produce and food consumption in general. At present consumers are interested in many additional issues. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the health and nutritive benefits of eating more fresh fruit. They are also more interested in dietary issues, consuming more low fat and sugar food, what favours consumption of fruits. The campaign 5 a day launched by Produce for Better Health Foundation in USA, and extended later all over the world, is trying to encourage the consumption of fruit on health grounds following this trend towards healthy products . However, the potential for fruit consumption increases based on health reasons is still high since the intake of fruit is still bellow the recommended levels.
For more information on health benefits of bananas, see Fruit and Vegetables Project