Is it safe to eat brown bananas?
Getty Images / Massimo Ravera
Bananas are one of the most delicious and versatile fruits. They are most often enjoyed as is for breakfast or as a snack, and they can be cooked, whether baked, caramelized or flambéed, when ripe or even overripe. But when exactly does an overripe brown banana become unusable? Here’s everything you need to know, from when to start a really brown banana for how to choose the best one for your needs.
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Is it safe to eat brown bananas?
It really all depends on the color of your banana. Ultimately, as long as your banana isn’t moldy and isn’t slimy or too soft and mushy when you peel the skin off, it’s safe to eat brown bananas.
A banana with brown spots or freckles is suitable. These spots are an indicator of ripeness (smell is another indicator – more on the scent of a banana in a minute). The spots will be different shades of brown and will appear as spots on the skin.
Black areas or large sections of dark brown on a banana are more likely to be bruises, caused either by the natural ripening process or exposure to air. Bananas are high emitters of ethylene gas, like apples, avocados, stone fruits, pears and tomatoes, among others. (Find out why you should separate these fruits from low ethylene gas emitting fruits and how to store them here.) Ethylene emission is natural and part of the banana ripening process, including over-ripening, l stage at which we may notice bruising. These bruises can easily be cut from the fruit.
When the flesh of a banana is exposed to the air due to a tear or hole in the skin, oxidation (aka enzymatic browning) occurs, which also manifests as bruising. According to an article by Svenja Lohner in American Scientist“The enzyme responsible for browning is called polyphenol oxidase (or PPO). In the presence of oxygen, the PPO enzyme converts substances called phenolic compounds (through an oxidation process) into different compounds called quinones. The quinones then react with other compounds to form melanin.Melanin is the same dark brown pigment that colors the hair, skin, and irises of our eyes.It also browns fruits and vegetables.
So oxidized bananas, although they attract less attention than when they are in their yellow, sunny form, are perfectly fine to eat. (Bananas with mostly brown skin, like what you see in the photo above, are actually great for baking – more on that later!)
When is a banana also brown?
Trust your instincts, literally. If the banana is totally brown with no yellowing, is soft or mushy, shows signs of mold, is leaking liquid, or smells like rot, it cannot be stored.
A ripe banana will have yellow skin covered in brown spots, will smell like bananas, and will have the texture of a ripe avocado. An overripe banana that is not fit for eating raw or cooked will be totally brown or have black bruises and will smell fermented or like alcohol or have an undertone of garbage. Overripe bananas often ooze liquid.
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What makes bananas rot?
Usually, exposure of banana flesh to air is the main culprit for rotting. Any opening in the protective covering of the skin allows oxygen to reach the flesh, which can cause the flesh to oxidize and then break down. Damaged peels can also give access to pests like fruit flies or house flies.
Avoid bananas with obvious bruises or soft spots. And always buy bananas with their stems still attached. Any opening in the skin allows air and bacteria to enter the fruit, which means it will spoil faster.
Can I cook with brown bananas?
For baking, you always want to use brown bananas. Brown bananas have a more intense flavor, which will persist even after cooking. This is because brown bananas have gone far enough in the ripening stage that their starches have converted to sugar, which intensifies the flavor and prevents any gummy or starchy texture from negatively impacting your produce. bakery.
If you’ve ever eaten banana bread or a muffin that was chewy or barely tasted like bananas, chances are the bananas weren’t ripe enough. Nutritionally, there is no significant difference between the health benefits of bananas at different stages of ripening – they are all good for you! (Find out what this dietitian has to say about the health benefits of bananas, and here’s a complete guide to bananas.)
The flavor of bananas also increases as they ripen and release aromatic esters, especially isoamyl acetate. According to the American Chemical Society, “Isoamyl acetate is naturally produced by the ripening of fruits. It creates a strong fruity banana or pear odor that is widely used to flavor foods, attract bees, and improve the smell of everything from perfumes to shoe polish.”
How to choose the perfect banana
Choosing the perfect banana depends on when you want to eat it and how you plan to use it. For a tastier dish, like banana corn fritters, you might want bananas that are unripe, more green than yellow. These bananas will be harder, more like a carrot.
If you’re looking for a snack on the go or want to slice it on your cereal, go for a bright yellow banana with minimal brown spots. Preference also comes into play here. Some people prefer barely ripe bananas, when the flesh is still relatively firm and the flavor isn’t too sweet or fragrant. Some prefer a very ripe banana, which will be sweeter and have a more intense banana flavor. Fully ripe bananas will be yellow with brown spots like freckles.
For cooking, when you want the banana flavor to come out, wait until your bananas are completely covered in brown spots and smell very fragrant. If your bananas have ripened to the perfect stage for baking, but you’re not ready to make banana bread yet, freeze them!
Related: The One Surprising Ingredient You Should Add to Your Banana Bread, But Probably Aren’t
At the end of the line
Bananas will always be a great fruit to have on hand, whether you need a nutritious on-the-go snack or are looking to create decadent desserts. And if you choose the right ones, you can get a long edible life out of them. Even the brown ones.
Related: Joanna Gaines’ Easy Banana Bread is ‘seriously the best banana bread ever’, according to a fan