The time bananas went extinct

The dominant banana among consumers in the US and Europe, that is. And they did not technically go extinct throughout the world. In the vast tracts of Central American plantations providing bananas to the Western world, however, the Gros Michel banana, once dominant, was wiped out by disease in the 1950s. If you live in the West, therefore, the bananas you eat today are not the same as those your grandparents ate, and many contend that the bananas of today are much worse than those of the early twentieth century.

While there are many types of bananas capable of being consumed by humans, one breed, the Gros Michel, was chosen as the staple breed by banana producers of the late nineteenth century. In comparison to many other types of bananas, the Gros Michel had small seeds and a rich flavor.

This banana type was mass-produced via cloning. Thus, the bananas had no genetic diversity and were highly susceptible to disease. Sure enough, a fungus often referred to as the Panama Disease ravaged the Gros Michel banana breed, eliminating it almost entirely in the 1950s. Banana producers scrambled to create a replacement. The result was the Cavendish, a breed of banana resistant to the Panama Disease. The Cavendish, because it is also produced through cloning, could eventually meet the same fate.

People who have tried both breeds often state that the Cavendish is more sour and less flavorful than its predecessor. The consensus appears to be that the Gros Michel banana is far more delicious than the now-dominant Cavendish, although it is also often agreed that the latter’s appearance is much more aesthetically pleasing. Some have hypothesized that artificial banana flavor is based upon the Gros Michel breed, and that this explains the sweetness of artificial banana flavoring in comparison to Cavendish bananas. It is unclear whether this is actually true. What is clear is that if you want to eat the sweeter bananas that once lined grocery stores throughout the United States and Europe, it’s best to visit Africa or Asia.