Have you ever found the usual bananas in your grocery store to be a little, well, bland? You're not alone. Banana enthusiasts in recent years have begun flocking to richer alternatives like the Blue Java banana (Musa acuminata 'Blue Java'), which is grown in many parts of Asia, Australia and Hawaii. The unripe fruit takes on a greenish-silver-blue hue due to its wax coating, hence the name. Its white flesh contains black seeds, which isn't exactly common for a dessert banana.
It's also widely known as the "Ice Cream" banana for its sweet and soft flesh, which bears a similarity in taste to vanilla custard or ice cream. You can eat the ripe banana raw. Others suggest mixing it into a smoothie with peanut butter or doing the old trick of freezing and blending the bananas to make an all-natural ice-cream alternative. Options for acquiring the Blue Java outside of Asia and the South Pacific are limited. You can purchase the banana in bulk from this Florida-based company. For our friends in Hawaii: Several local growers cultivate the Ice Cream banana, so scout out farmers' markets on the big island and Oahu.
But if you don't want to spend a fortune shipping bananas or traveling to Hawaii, you can always try purchasing a tree and planting one in your own backyard or even indoors. Unlike other bananas, Blue Java can survive colder climates. If you live in zones 8-11 on the hardiness scale, you can plant them outdoors in your backyard; if you live in a zone 4 or higher, you can grow them on your patio and and move them indoors during chillier times of year. But watch out: These bad boys can grow to heights of 15-plus feet (4.57-plus meters). Find tips on caring for the tree here.
The growing interest in more unorthodox bananas like the Blue Java comes at a time of great disruption in the global banana market. Everyone from scientists to the media have proclaimed that a banana crisis is unfolding before our eyes. We've seen this happen before with the Gros Michel (Musa acuminata 'Gros Michel') banana, also known as 'Big Mike.' (Bananas have fun names, if you haven't realized that yet). Although the Gros Michel was the "it" banana in the U.S. pre-World War II, it dropped off the market after it was brought down by Panama disease. Then, the Cavendish banana came along en masse. Approximately 40 percent of global banana production today consists of the Cavendish, making it the de-facto king of the banana world.
The Cavendish thrived because it was thought to be genetically resistant to Panama disease. And while that's still true, the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense, which causes Panama disease, has been hitting the Cavendish hard in recent years. Another strain of the fungus known as tropical race 4 (TR4) has been devastating the Cavendish (among other bananas), leading to concerns about the fungus crippling banana production and potentially contributing to economic loss and food insecurity in Latin America and Africa. Could the Blue Java or another banana prove to be more resistant to the strain and dethrone the Cavendish? Only time will tell.
Originally Published: Apr 15, 2019