Bananas Of A Different Hue

Thirty-five years ago, Lelan Nishek started Kaua’i Nursery & Landscaping (KN&L). Since then, the one-man operation has grown into a 150-acre property with close to 80 employees, including three of Lelan’s brothers, their families and his daughter Sandy.

From anthuriums and orchids to plumerias and palms, KN&L sells hundreds of tropical plants and trees. Vegetable starts are grown from University of Hawaii seeds, which are hybrids that are disease resistant and acclimated to Hawaii’s climate.

On Sept 21 at 9:05 a.m., KN&L will host a free banana workshop where you can enter a drawing to win a tissue culture banana plant. The workshop will cover how to grow banana varieties sold at KN&L, including the tissue culture bananas, and the bunchy top virus.

KN&L banana varieties: Chinese Williams (dwarf Cavendish), Dwarf Apple (dwarf Brazilian), Dwarf red (mutation of Cuban Red), Ice Cream, Pisang Awak (Indonesia) also known as Dwarf Namwah (Thailand).

DWARF RED

“Of approximately 1,000 edible banana varieties in the world, about 100 grow in Hawaii, most of which are covered in this book,” reads The New World of Bananas in Hawaii: Then and Now by Angela Kay Kepler and Francis G. Rust. Sandy Nishek lent me the tome, containing 586 pages and color photographs, so I could research this article.

The smallish mahogany-colored fruit, also called Dwarf Cuban, Dwarf Cuban Red, Dwarf Jamaican, Dwarf Jamaican Red, Maroon or Red Dwarf, is a relatively recent mutation from Cuban Red. At 8 feet tall (compared to 28-feet) it’s quickly replacing its parent throughout Hawai’i.

An attractive edible ornamental, its creamy white to pink flesh has a slight raspberry flavor and floral aroma. Higher in vitamin C than yellow varieties, it is also rich in carotene – the redder the color, the more carotene it contains.

Season: Milan Rupert owned a small, commercial banana farm for 12 years, and says it takes five months for bananas to go from flower to fruit. Depending on variety, a well-cared-for banana will produce fruit in 12 to 18 months. Cut the plant at the base and it will fruit again in six months. Replant after three cycles.

What to look for:

When bananas are rounded between the ribs, they are ready to pick. Red Bananas, when ripe, should have a purplish hue. Choose slightly firm Red Bananas and avoid bruises or cracks.

Storage: Store Red Bananas uncovered at room temperature. Turn occasionally.

Preparation: Peel and enjoy raw, eaten out of hand. Slice and add to fruit salads, fry or leave whole for decorative use.

Tip: When given a choice of conventional or organic bananas, animals at the Copenhagen Zoo opt for organic. According to their keepers, chimpanzees and tapirs devour organic bananas, skin and all, while the dexterous primates peel conventionally grown bananas before consumption.

Health benefits: The Red banana has more beta-carotene and vitamin C than yellow bananas and contains eight amino acids that your body cannot produce. At 105 calories, a medium (7 1/2-inch) banana is a nutrient powerhouse, providing vitamin B6 (22 percent Daily Value), vitamin C (15-percent DV), potassium (12 percent DV), magnesium (8 percent DV), folate (6 percent DV) and 3 grams fiber. It also has virtually no fat, sodium or cholesterol.

Bananas can be found at:

Kaua’i Nursery & Landscaping, 3-1550 Kaumualii Hwy, Lihue. For more information call 245-7747, or visit kauainursery.com.

SANDY’S BANANAS AND BACON

Sandy Nishek is an avid cook who expertly turns out delicious meals. Her recipe makes a wonderful after-school snack and a welcome potluck pupu. Fell free to use any type of banana.

2 Dwarf Red bananas, sliced into 1-inch rounds
1 pound bacon
2 tablespoons bacon fator oil

Blanch bacon in a pot of boiling water for three minutes. Remove, set on paper towels and cool to room temperature. Slice bacon in half and wrap around banana rounds. If you happen to save bacon fat after cooking bacon, add 2 tablespoons of it to a pan over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to bubble, add banana slices and cook until brown, about five minutes. Enjoy warm.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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