Friday, 8 May 2015

08/05/15 - Bananas

Bananas. They’re good, aren’t they? You can slice them lengthways and fill them with ice cream to create a ’50s-style dessert, drop their skins on the floor to stymie any passing video game characters in go-karts, or leave a trail of them into a big cardboard box that you’re propping up with a stick on a string, so that you can easily trap a monkey and take it home.
They’re interesting things, ’nanas. If you put them in a bowl of unripe fruit, they emit ethylene gas to ripen everything up. Why do they do this? Because they’re frickin’ magic, that’s why. And here are some other things you might not know about your favourite unzippable yellow fruit:

Bananas are berries
True story. The botanical definition of a berry is ‘a fleshy fruit produced from a single flower and containing one ovary’. Also joining bananas in the ‘Strewth, are they really berries?’ category are grapes, honeysuckle, pumpkins, tomatoes, watermelons, and avocados. (Incidentally, many of the things you think of as berries actually aren’t; blackberries and raspberries are aggregate fruits, mulberries are multiple fruits, strawberries are accessory fruits – don’t let the names fool you.) 

Bananas are radioactive
Don’t get excited, loads of things are radioactive to some degree or another – it doesn’t mean they’re spurting dangerous levels of plutonium all over your kitchen. But bananas are noticeably more radioactive than other foods – they contain a lot of potassium, and potassium decays.
There is actually such a thing as a ‘Banana Equivalent Dose’ (BED), referring to the level of exposure to radioactive isotopes from eating a single banana. The average daily exposure to radiation is 100 BED, or the equivalent of eating a hundred bananas. The maximum permitted leakage at a nuclear power plant is set at 2500 BED. If you have a CT scan to your chest, you’re exposed to 70,000 BED. And so on.
Fear not, a lethal dose in banana terms is around 80,000,000 BED – to be honest, you’ll die if you eat eighty million of anything.

Bananas make you happy
…in a roundabout sort of way. These little yellow treasures contain tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid. Such acids cannot be synthesised, so they need to be part of our diet. Brilliantly, tryptophan is a biochemical precursor for serotonin, and serotonin is a thing that sits in your central nervous system spreading feelings of wellbeing and happiness throughout your brain and body. It’s possible that eating lots of bananas will make you giddy with glee – you’ll have to experiment for yourself.

Bananas are all asexual clones
Supermarket bananas, that is. Every banana that you see on the shelf has been produced via a process called parthenocarpy, which literally means ‘virgin fruit’. It’s a form of plant-based artificial insemination, leading to seedless fruit.
Bananas as we know them, you see, are not naturally occurring fruits, and wouldn’t survive without human intervention. Wild bananas are pollinated by bats and produce very small fruits; the plump bananas we know today are the product of generations of human manipulation, selecting and refining parthenocarpic fruits and propagating them en masse.

You’re eating a Cavendish banana
…probably. If you’re eating a banana at the moment.
The asexual ’nana you’re most likely to find in the supermarket is a Cavendish. Their history dates back to the 1830s, when William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, received a shipment of bananas for his gardener, Sir Joseph Paxton, to cultivate in the greenhouse of Chatsworth House. Cavendish bananas, proving successful and delicious under Paxton’s watch, were then shipped all over the world, including to the Canary Islands, where they thrived, and from whence they were ultimately imported back into the UK by Thomas Fyffe in the 1880s.
Cavendish bananas entered mass commercial production in 1903, eventually moving to the no.1 banana spot when the Gros Michel variety was decimated by Panama disease in the 1950s.

There’s no point smoking bananas
If we’re to believe the late-1960s Donovan song Mellow Yellow, it’s possible to get high on bananadine. This is, of course, nonsense.
A hoax recipe for bananadine was published in the Berkeley Barb, an underground counterculture newsletter in California, in 1967; it detailed how it was possible to extract a psychoactive substance from banana skins which you could then smoke to achieve LSD-like effects. This gained some credence when William Powell, who thought it was true, reproduced it in The Anarchist Cookbook in 1970. In fact, the original feature in the Barb was a satirical piece questioning the ethics of criminalising psychoactive drugs; smoking banana skins may create a placebo high at best, but there’s no scientific reason why you could actually get stoned on bananas. You can’t.

So there you have it. Bananas: interesting.







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