When it comes to plant-based eating, jackfruit has become a bit of a breakout star. But with 800 varieties of bananas alone, people could be looking further afield for fruit alternatives to spice up barbecues and salads.
Fruit and fresh produce giant Fyffes has been ramping up production of its red bananas in anticipation of pushing it into more markets.
Hailing from Central America, reds are a fuller plumper banana than the most familiar variety, Cavendish. Although the banana skins are crimson, the edible flesh is whitish in colour, with perhaps a slight pinkish tinge, says Paul Barrett, brand manager at Fyffes.
“Reds tend to be sweeter and softer, with a hint of strawberry/citrus. The big difference, other than their striking skin colour, is that reds are best eaten when very ripe – the skin turns a deep purple,” he tells Food Spark. “At this stage they are very soft and creamy, like a luxury pudding or dessert confection.”
Boosting desserts and beyond
While red bananas can be used in a variety of desserts, Barrett insists they can also add a delicious sweetness to a savoury dish or offer “barbecue heaven.”
He recommends taking the banana still in its skin, slicing it lengthwise, inserting some really dark chocolate, wrapping the banana in foil and gently grilling it on a barbecue.
“You'll need to spoon the banana-chocolate gooey stuff from the skin, but what a treat,” he comments. “If using reds for baking, a slightly less ripe banana will add a starchier, heartier constituency and flavour.”
The bananas are also smaller in size, contain slightly more calories than Cavendish bananas (118 calories per 100g compared to 95kcal) and are rich in potassium and vitamins A and C.
Morrisons actually launched red bananas into its stores nationwide back in 2008, but Barrett admits there are challenges to overcome with the fruit.
Right now, supply is limited to a relatively small number of farms in Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. If demand rose, it would take 18 months to scale up and plant anew. Then there is convincing consumers about the quirks of the fruit.
“People would have to be willing to leave the bananas in the fruit bowl for about a week so that they ripen up properly,” Barrett says. “If eaten when not ready, the reds can be bland and chalky. There would need to be a determined effort at POS and online to educate consumers.”
As part of an innovations push, Fyffes has also been looking at alternative varieties of bananas, reveals Barrett.
“Front runners are Prata, which have a hint of apple, Manzano, which have a hint of citrus/kiwi fruit, and the babies, which are small and very sweet and have a hint of cookie dough,” he says.
Meaty lemons to mango plums
But it’s not just bananas that have potential. Lemon specialist La Costiera believes its bianchetto lemons could be used in foodservice as a meat alternative.
Harvested between April and May and hailing from Sicily, bianchetto lemons add bulk and bite to salads, according to the fruit producer. The taste is a cross between a lemon and an orange, making them slightly less sour.
Mango plums could also be making a comeback after they failed to take off when introduced by Marks & Spencer in 2015. This fruit has a bright orange edible skin which is firmer than a plum, and a sweet taste similar to that of an Alphonso mango but with a softer texture. It is best served chilled.
Mango plum trees flower from November to December in Thailand and bear fruit in April and May, while in Indonesia the tree flowers from June to November and fruits from March through June. Over in Asia, they are eaten raw but also appear in some dishes, including curries, and can be pickled, boiled and stewed.
Suppliers of mango plums are hoping that chefs will spark interest in the fruit by incorporating them into menu recipes.
Tally me banana
- 10 months after leaving the nursery, the fruit begins to develop
- 6 months later the bananas start to grow
- 48 hours to harvest, pack and deliver
- 12 days to travel across the Atlantic, shipped in purpose-built banana reefers or temperature-controlled containers to ensure ripening is slowed virtually to nil
- 6 days’ careful attention during ripening and selection at Fyffes’ UK ripening centre
- 2 days for onward transportation to store/shelf
- 5-7 days in the fruit bowl to ripen-up