The History and Challenges of Bananas: From Domestication to Disease

TLDR Bananas have a long history, being domesticated in Papua New Guinea thousands of years ago and spreading throughout Southeast Asia and Oceania. However, the popular Gros Michel banana was devastated by Panama disease in the 1950s, leading to the rise of the Cavendish banana. Now, the Cavendish is threatened by a new strain of the disease, prompting researchers to search for a more resistant banana variety.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 Bananas became a mass market sensation in the late 19th century, but the bananas that most people eat today are different from the ones eaten before World War II due to a pestilence.
02:16 Bananas were likely domesticated in Papua New Guinea around 10,000 years ago and spread throughout Southeast Asia and Oceania, resulting in a large number of banana varietals, including yellow, brown, green, red, and even blue bananas.
03:57 The Gros Michel banana, also known as the Big Mike, became the popular banana for export in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to its durability, ease of shipping, and great taste.
05:38 Panama disease, a fungus that appeared in the 19th century and had a particular fondness for the Gros Michel banana, devastated large plantations in Central America in the early 1950s and continues to be one of the most devastating blights to affect any agricultural crop.
07:24 The Cavendish banana, which became the banana for export after being resistant to Panama disease, is now being threatened by a strain of the disease called Tropical Race 4, and researchers are working on finding a more resistant version of the Cavendish or possibly bringing back the Gros Michel banana.
09:14 Banana peels were actually thrown on the ground in the early 20th century, causing slippery conditions and leading to the City of St. Louis, Missouri outlawing the practice, and bananas are naturally radioactive due to the isotope potassium-40, but the radiation from one banana is only equivalent to 1% of the daily natural exposure to radiation most people receive.
11:10 Bananas and plantains are different varietals of the same thing, with bananas being sweeter and not needing to be cooked, while plantains are tougher, starchier, and usually need to be cooked, and bananas have become a staple crop and a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide.
Categories: History Education

Browse more History