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The History of Bananas

Did you know that the bananas we eat today are not the bananas that your grandparents and great-grandparents enjoyed? The original banana was called the Gros Michel, a sweet, creamy, and hardy variety that was popularized on a mass scale by the United Fruit Company (which would later become Chiquita). Sadly, their efforts included clearing whole rainforests and many alleged human rights abuses. However, those violations aren’t what killed the Gros Michel – it was wiped out by Panama disease. Knowing the Gros Michel was susceptible to this disease, United Fruit Company’s chief competitor, Standard Fruit, introduced the Cavendish variety in 1947. The Cavendish banana was more delicate and less tasty than the Gros Michel, but it was also resistant to Panama disease. Cavendish bananas were originally bred in a hothouse in England and are a sterile variety, meaning that they must be cloned to reproduce. Today, they are the most popular variety of banana, and the Gros Michel is no longer available because it was wiped out by Panama disease. However, a new strain of the same disease now threatens the Cavendish, and scientists are looking for solutions such as encouraging biodiversity or genetically engineering a Panama-resistant banana.

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