Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Banana. A history.

On this day, in 1633, a London shop window displayed the first ever banana to be seen in the UK.

Until the advent of refrigerated ships bananas were not widely sold in northern Europe. But in 1633 an enterprising herbalist and merchant by the name of Thomas Johnson managed to bring the first bananas to London where he displayed them in his Snow Hill shop window. It is believed he brought them from Bermuda, though we do not know how he managed to get them to destination in a fit state for display.

Bananas are the fruit of Musa Acuminata: musa being the genus, and acuminata meaning a long-pointed or tapering, not referring to the fruit, but to the related flowers. The original banana - of the raw cooking variety rather than the yellow sweet on - has been cultivated and used since ancient times, pre-dating the cultivation of rice.
As far as we know bananas originated in Malaysia around 4000 years ago, and they are mentioned for the first time in Buddhist texts, around 600 B.C. In the following centuries various examples of bananas were brought to southern Europe from the far East, and in 1502, the Portuguese brought the first banana root stocks to the Western Hemisphere, where Thomas Johnson found his examples to bring back to the UK.

However: an archaeological dig along the river Thames recently unearthed a banana skin dating to about 1500, found in what seems to have been a fish pond. This seems to prove stories that around this time a Chinese variety if the fruit was sent to England, where it was named "Cavendish" after the Duke of Devonshire's family.

Whatever the true journey of the banana, it is today a very loved fruit in the UK, with an annual per capita consumption of 12kg. And, we are glad to see, the sweet yellow fruit continues to make headlines.

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