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Bananas are a "new food"

I’m fascinated by the fact that certain foods are “new” to various countries, how they get adopted, promoted, and accepted. Spaghetti was an exotic dish from Italy, now most people think of it as “american food”.

In the 1940s bananas were first introduced to the U.S. People didn’t know what to do with them.

Chiquita worked with Disney to invent the “Chiquita Banana”. Everyone knows the name and the music now, but if you watch the old cartoons based on Ms. Banana, you’ll notice that the lyrics are specific cooking instructions for housewives so they know how to buy, store, and cook with bananas.

Ever since I learned that (thanks to NPR’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Chiquita Banana cartoon a few years ago) I’ve been fascinated with the concept of corporate efforts to change our food culture.

I recently found this link to the FIRST ever Chiquita Banana cartoon. Enjoy!


P.S. Other “new” foods... “broccoli” was considered such an interesting new veggie in Cole Porter’s day that the song You’re The Top compares someone to broccoli to show that they are amazing.

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Last I heard bananas are doomed because the single clone that produces the preferred type of yellow banana was being attacked by a parasite or something. I wonder how that's coming along.

Back in the 50s the banana cultivar available in the United States fell victim to a root fungus and it was replaced with the cultivar we now get -- at the time nobody believed that anybody would ever buy this "tasteless" variety. But that explains all the banana recipes from my old cookbooks, which require a full-flavored sweet banana such as one hardly ever gets. I mean, who orders a banana split anymore? They were once astoundingly popular, and I think they gradually became less so as eating them became less of a pleasure. US bananas were once as sweet and flavorful as ice cream.

To be fair, a lot of things now are sweeter and more intensely flavored than they were even when I was a kid, thanks to changes in manufacturing...I kind of wonder how an old-school banana would stand up to modern HFCS-laden ice cream and syrups.

Um, bananas have been around a lot longer than that.

One source says they were introduced to the USA as part of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Expo, but a Smithsonian history of the banana says, "as early as 1861, [American] children were being warned in a Sunday School paper against throwing their banana and orange peels on the sidewalk."

Either way, they became popular quickly. United Fruit (of the Chiquita brand and "Banana Republics" infamy) was formed in 1899, and quickly became rich enough to own small countries.

Bananas were one of America's favorite fruits by the 1920s; the 1923 song "Yes, We Have No Bananas" is said to have been inspired by the fungus epidemic that all but wiped out the Gros Michel variety by the 1950s. "The banana peel gag" was a staple of vaudeville and comic films of the 20s, too. Josephine Baker's famous "banana skirt" costume debuted in 1925.

It's possible that those Chiquita commercials in the 40s were aimed at popularizing the hardier but less sweet Cavendish banana in the wake of dwindling Gros Michel stocks. Or maybe bananas were rationed during the war (like they were in England) and needed to be re-popularized with an ad campaign afterwards.

My grandfather used to tell a story about his journey to the US-he came over by ship from Russia via Rotterdam Holland. His father saved up enough to pay for second class tickets instead of steerage, which meant they had fruit as part of their meals. He had never seen a banana before, but he had his first one on the ship and tried to eat it with the peel at first, until one of the sailors helped him peel it.

Think of all the 'people prat falling after slipping on a banana peel' jokes in silent / early talkie comedies!

One reason you might have seen more bananas in the 1940s is that they were not being shipped to the UK from 1939. The arrival of the first post-war bananas was major news here.

Indeed....recall the Depression song, "we have no bananas"?

Not exactly related to them being introduced to the US, but the first usage of the word "banana" in reference to the fruit that the OED lists is from 1597.

The first example of "banana republic" is from 1935. The term "banana liquid" in reference to amyl acetate dates to at least 1916. This would indicate that at least chemistry types knew what bananas smelled like by then.

That made me happy today!! Thank you.

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