We all love eating a banana, they’re both delicious and nutritious. But another thing that we love are collective nouns.
Collective nouns are what we call groups of things, for example, a group of owls is called a Parliament, and a group of sticks is called a bundle.
But what is a group of bananas called?
Although most of us will usually say “bunch”, this is technically not correct.
A single banana is called a finger. A small group of bananas is called a hand. And an entire stalk of bananas is called a “bunch”.
Most of the time, when we say “a bunch of bananas”, we should be saying “a hand of bananas.”
Depending on what source you believe, the word “banana” is originally a Mande or Wolof word. Both Mande and Wolof are African languages, this continent that grows the most bananas.
Their word comes from Banan which is Old Arabic for “Fingertip”. Named after the fact the shape of these fruits resembles a finger. I don’t know anyone whose fingers are large, yellow, and peelable, but the form of them is long, just like our fingers.
Because a single banana is called a “finger” it makes sense therefore that a group of them would be called a “hand”.
As with most of the vegetables and fruit we eat, the banana wasn’t a gift from nature. We had to cross-breed, and selectively breed to create a sweet and delicious fruit that’s to our taste.
Before humans got their hands on them, the banana was a smaller and browner fruit which did not taste sweet and delicious like they do today. This fruit came about in about 8000 bc, in South East Asia.
It was only through cultivation and human intervention that they became a bitter brown plant to being the kind of fruit you’d want Ice Cream to taste like.
Although today, when most of us think of growing bananas, we would think of Africa. Bananas actually had their beginning in South East Asia, predominantly India- even if it wasn’t called “India” yet.
It wasn’t until 327 BC that it was brought over to Africa by Arab conquerors. Since Africa had the ideal climate for growing it, they quickly overtook Asia as the primary location that bananas were grown.
In the 16th century, it was brought over by Portuguese sailors who had brought them over from Africa. Since then, they have become one of our favourite fruits.
90% of Bananas are grown in the Caribbean, which is understandable when you consider the weather is hot, and the soil is fertile, making it ideal for producing all of the tropical fruits such as bananas and pineapples.
However, throughout most of history, fruit grown in Africa was not readily available for the people of Europe like it is today. Refrigeration had not been invented yet, and the boats which they had would have taken several months to travel- enough time for the fruit to go rotten.
It wasn’t until Jules Verne’s book “Around the world in 80 days” got published that many people learnt about this strange fruit known as the “banana”.
Why do we call a hand a “bunch”?
As mentioned in the introduction, many of us will incorrectly refer to a hand of bananas as a “bunch”. Why do we do this?
This first reason is likely because “bunch” sounds better and rolls off the tongue easier. “Bunch of bananas” uses two B’s next to each other, this alliteration is very pleasing for us to hear.
Another reason could be that a “hand” might be misinterpreted as a “handful”. And a “handful” of bananas is only going to be one banana.
How we eat them
The banana has now travelled to so many countries that different cultures enjoy doing other things with them.
In America, the Banana Split is a staple of many Ice Cream parlours. Scoops of Ice Cream resting between a split banana.
In the UK, many enjoyed baking banana bread during lock-down. It’s a great way to use up the brown bananas that you would otherwise be throwing in the bin.
And in many African countries, the fried banana is a typical street food. Because bananas are so common, there is obviously going to be a surplus, and a fried banana is a filling and delicious snack.
There is one type of banana that you’re far more likely to find on a dinner plate than in a pudding bowl. And that is the Plantain.
Although technically a banana, the plantain is savoury and acts more like a vegetable than a fruit.
Even though the plantain is very new to our culture, more and more people are enjoying it. Particularly with so many African migrants coming over and sharing their culture with the rest of the world.
Even though they’re generally slightly bigger, the plantain uses the same collective nouns as the regular banana.
Not only are bananas delicious, they’re also packed full of nutrients.
Let’s start with the obvious one, vitamin C. Vitamin C is an essential component of having healthy skin and a robust immune system. That’s why it’s recommended that we have at least 5 pieces of fruit or vegetables a day.
They’re also a great source of protein. Usually, when thinking of protein-rich food, we would either think of meat or beans. But Bananas are an excellent way for those of us with a sweet tooth to get our fair share of protein.
And finally, they’re high in carbohydrates.
Most of the time, when we buy a group of bananas, we would refer to it as a “bunch”, but actually, we should be saying “hand”. Because a single banana is called a “finger”.
However, because “a bunch of bananas” is alliteration, and a “hand” might be misinterpreted as a “handful”, most of us will continue to say “bunch”.
The banana was brought over to Africa from South East Asia in 327BC, but it wasn’t until the 16th century that it was brought over to America.
Since then, we’ve gone onto creating Banana bread, and the banana split. And it looks as if plantain is about to follow a similar fate.