QUESTION:Should you put bananas in the refrigerator? (Asked by a curious column-reader.)

REPLY: This is an old one – but first, a little banana background. The banana was native to Southeast Asia, but today it is grown in tropical climates around the world. Half of the world’s bananas are grown in Africa, and Central America and northern South America are the leading exporters. It is believed that the banana was introduced to the United States in the early 1800s through Cuba.

The banana “tree” is not a tree, but rather a giant herb and the largest plant on Earth without a woody stem. The “trunk” of the banana plant is made of thick leaves wrapped around one another in overlapping layers. The banana plant bears fruit only once, the next crop being planted from rootstock. The plant grows quickly, having ripened fruit in a year or less. Each plant bears about 10 bunches of fruit called “hands,” and each hand contains about 20 bananas or “fingers.” The bananas are picked green, boxed and loaded aboard refrigerated ships. On arrival, the fruit is stored in ripening rooms until the bananas are not so green.

There are a variety of bananas, from sweet dwarf bananas to cooking bananas, which are larger, coarser and less sweet than the kinds generally eaten raw. With a high nutritional value, bananas are a major food staple in some parts of the world. Although about 75 percent water, they also contain fat, sugars, protein, potassium, and vitamins A, B and C.

Now, back to the original question. Bananas generally undergo their final ripening at home (unless you buy the ripened specials). Many people are reluctant to put bananas in the refrigerator. This probably stems from the Chiquita Banana commercials that began in the 1940s. Chiquita warned:

“Bananas like the climate of the very, very tropical equator,

So you should never put bananas in the refrigerator.”

Generally, for the best results, I have read that bananas should be stored at room temperature until fully ripe, then placed in the refrigerator to slow spoilage. Refrigeration will cause the skin to turn brown, but the fruit inside will remain unspoiled for a few days. Also, the browner the skin, the sweeter the fruit. As Chiquita sang:

“When they are flecked with brown and of a golden hue,

That’s when bananas are the best for you.”

She never mentioned that they are shipped in refrigerated boats.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble.” -- Rudyard Kipling

Curious about something? Send your questions to Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.