Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world.
They’re a healthy, delicious snack and easy to use in baking and cooking.
Although you may only see a few types at your local store, over 1,000 kinds of bananas (Musa) exist around the globe (1).
These include both sweet and savory varieties, many of which come in unique colors, flavors, and shapes.
Bananas offer numerous health benefits.
This popular yellow fruit is a good source of potassium and magnesium, which your body uses for nerve and muscle function, as well as to maintain fluid and pH balance (2, 3).
Their starches turn into sugar as they ripen. If you eat your bananas before they’re fully ripe, you’ll get the benefits of different types of healthy starch (3, 4).
Their rapidly digestible starch is metabolized into glucose, which your body can use for a quick burst of energy, while their slowly digestible starch acts as a longer-lasting form of fuel and helps stabilize blood sugar levels (3).
Bananas’ resistant starch is fermented in your large intestine, where it feeds your healthy gut bacteria (3, 4).
Additionally, antioxidants like phenolic compounds and carotenoids in this tasty fruit may protect your cells from oxidative damage (5, 6).
Bananas are also rich in serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters help regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, and mood (5, 6).
Bananas may aid digestion and help balance your blood sugar, among other benefits. To get the most beneficial starch, eat them when they’re slightly underripe.
Bananas are classified as either dessert bananas, which are sweet and eaten raw, or cooking bananas, which are starchy and similar to potatoes.
Cooking bananas are usually boiled, fried, or grilled and eaten alongside savory dishes. They’re often referred to as plantains in the United States (5, 6).
Here are the nutrients in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of both types of bananas when ripe and raw (2, 7):
Cooking bananas are higher in provitamin A and vitamin C, as well as carbs and calories. The two types share similar amounts of most other nutrients (2, 3, 7).
Cooking bananas, also known as plantains, are starchier and higher in carbs than dessert bananas, which are sweet and usually eaten raw.
All dessert bananas are sweet but vary in shape, size, color, and flavor. Many are only available in certain countries, but you can find some of them at specialty markets or online.
Here are 9 interesting varieties of dessert bananas (5, 6, 8, 9):
Cavendish. The most widely exported banana in the world, the Cavendish has a sturdy peel that travels well. Almost all bananas sold in the United States and Europe are this variety.
Gros Michel. Also known as Big Mike, this was the top-exported banana until much of the crop was wiped out by a fungus in the 1950s. It’s similar in taste and size to Cavendish and still available in some places.
Lady Finger. A small banana that averages 4–5 inches (10–12.5 cm) long, with thin, light-yellow skin and sweet, creamy flesh. Lady Fingers are sometimes labeled “baby (niño).”
Blue Java. Also called “ice cream” bananas because they’re said to taste like vanilla ice cream, these have a bluish-silvery peel that turns pale yellow when ripe.
Manzano. Also called “apple bananas,” these short, chubby fruits have a hint of apple and strawberry. They’re fully ripe and taste best when the skin turns black. Manzano is the most popular dessert variety in the tropics.
Red. The thick skin of red bananas starts red or maroon but turns yellow-orange when ripe. The flesh is sweet and tinged with pink or orange.
Goldfinger. This newer variety from Honduras has a sweet and slightly apple-like flavor.
Mysore. This small fruit is the most important banana crop in India. It has a thin skin and a hint of tartness.
Praying Hands. You’ll recognize this variety by the two adjacent “hands” that grow fused together, giving the fruit its name. It’s less sweet than other types and has a subtle vanilla flavor.
Dessert bananas are sweet, tender, and creamy. They come in various sizes and colors and have subtle differences in flavor. Look for them in specialty markets, online, or tropical destinations.
Cooking bananas, or plantains, are a staple in many parts of the world, including the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia (8, 9).
They have a neutral flavor and are usually roasted, boiled, or fried. While they can be eaten raw when ripe, they have a softer texture when cooked (6).
Orinoco. Also known as “burro,” these are thick fruits with an angular shape and salmon-tinted flesh.
Bluggoe. This is a large, starchy plantain with a straight shape.
Fehi. These copper-toned fruits sometimes have seeds. They’re tasty when boiled or roasted.
Macho plantain. This is the most widely grown plantain in the United States. It’s particularly common in Florida.
Rhino Horn. The largest of the bananas, Rhino Horn plantains are from Africa and can grow up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) long.
Cooking bananas have a mild flavor and starchy texture. They’re tastier when cooked — generally via boiling, frying, or roasting — but can also be eaten raw if ripe.
Dessert bananas grown for export are harvested when roughly 75% mature and still green or unripe. They’re generally treated with ethylene gas, a natural ripening agent, shortly before being delivered to the store (8).
At home, it’s best to keep them on the counter and let them ripen at room temperature.
To slow the ripening process, you can place almost-ripe bananas in the fridge. Though the skin will turn black, the fruit will remain fresh for several days.
To accelerate the ripening process, place them in a brown paper bag with a ripe apple.
You can also peel and freeze ripe bananas for use in smoothies, banana bread, or nondairy ice cream.
Dessert bananas can be stored at room temperature to ripen. They can also be frozen and used later for various treats.
Bananas are a nutritious fruit that can be enjoyed as a sweet snack or a savory side.
They’re categorized as either dessert bananas or cooking bananas, which you may know as plantains.
It’s well worth seeking out different types, especially if you’re traveling to a tropical destination — as over 1,000 varieties are available.