Apr 282012

Just a banana? Overlooked as something quotidian – Thailand’s bananas hope to change your mind. Take a break from the supermarket and try out Thailand’s banana bounty – you’ll find them hard to leave behind.

How many varieties of Thai bananas?

Thailand has about, well, a lot of banana varieties (we’ve read sources that claim 20, 28, 50 and ‘over a hundred’) – all with a preferred use. As with apples, some are better eaten raw, some stand out when cooking. Sometimes it’s even the flowers you’re after. Visit fruit markets around Koh Samui and you’ll begin to notice that some are fatter than others, and both colour and taste differ, too. Consider this Bangkok banana tree show:

A few of Thailand's banana varieties (some sources claim there are over 100 different kinds of Thai bananas)

(Photo source: GardenWeb)

It’s a surprising investigation, as Westerners will be so used to the taste and texture of the standard supermarket banana, the Cavendish. What happened to banana variety in the rest of the world? Read Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World and you’ll never look at this fruit the same way again.

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, by Dan Koeppel

Suspect there’s room for a new banana in you life? (Or, if sources are to be believed, 99 new bananas)….Start in Thailand!

Where to find bananas in Thailand?

Better question – is there any corner where they won’t pop up? While in Thailand, you’ll see bananas growing all over the place (in fact fresh Thai fruit is pretty much everywhere, all the time). They’re just as common to a Thai garden as a backyard cherry tree in the West. Once you start paying attention, you’ll realise that banana trees in Thailand even grow as roadside weeds.

Spend any time out and about in Thailand, and you’ll spot bananas for sale in strange places. Certainly the supermarket and at fruit markets, but also at the auto-parts shop, T-shirt shops, and any variety of local businesses. These are guaranteed to be home-grown and as fresh as can be – akin to finding eggs for sale along a country road.

If coming from a cold country, you’ll enjoy having banana trees and their happy leaves surround your holiday. They’re a plant that waves “welcome to the tropics!” While you have the opportunity, take some time to inspect a banana tree up-close and see where the fruit comes from. Both kids and adults will find this fascinating, especially if you’ve never seen bananas outside of a supermarket.

The banana tree

Trees tend to sprout up next to each other, so while you’ll certainly see Thailand’s baby bananas – you can probably spot baby trees as well. With some effort, the babies are dug up and relocated in order to give them enough space. In little time, a full grove of banana trees has developed. The trees love water. Don’t have much space? Try growing a mini banana tree (it grows just 2′ tall).

The banana flower

Banana flowers are pretty spectacular – we love the tropics for providing flowers the size of guinea pigs. They’re man-sized flowers, and you can tell that they really mean business.

A banana flower bought at Koh Samui Tesco

For a great science and nature experience that kids will love, visit Koh Samui’s Tesco and buy a banana flower! (Find them in the packaged fresh produce section). Banana flowers are sold as an edible delicacy with a variety of uses in cooking – both as an ingredient and a garnish. Want to see what a tiny, tiny banana looks like? Buy a flower and dissect.

4 banana tree facts

8 metres: Banana trees can grow up to 8 metres tall (26 feet)* (though mini varieties grow only 24″ tall)

110 pounds: The full bunch/stem of bananas can weigh 30–50 kilograms (66–110 lb)

Quite a handful: Each ‘row’ of bananas is called a tier or a ‘hand’

20X20: a banana stem can have up to 20 tiers, with 20 fruits each. No wonder home-grown bananas are sold – could you eat 400 bananas before they grow too ripe?

How to enjoy Thai bananas?

Banana shakes + pancakes: While coconut shakes and pineapple shakes might get your attention, you have to try a banana shake as well. To us, it’s the perfect breakfast. Paired with? A banana pancake – eaten beachside for brunch, or straight from Pancake Man’s cart late at night.

2 ways to enjoy Koh Samui bananas: fresh or with nutella on pancakes?

Dried bananas: Another favourite incarnation of Thai bananas is dried bananas with honey. As sticky brown messes, they really don’t look appetising, but they’re delicious.

Wrapping paper: You might also see food wrapped in green leaves – often sweet or savoury sticky rice in banana leaves. The banana leaves are just the wrapper, used to hold the contents while it’s cooked and served. Don’t eat them! Unwrap it first, and then enjoy. We’ve seen Bangkok Airways serve such a snack in-flight and noticed a lot of confused Western faces – “what’s the green thing, and do we eat it?” (No!) Banana leaves are also folded into cups to cook curries, and all sorts of containers – for use around home, the temple and during Thai festivals.

* Facts via Wikipedia