National Banana Day is on April 19, and aside from being a kitchen counter staple, a delicious ingredient in baking, and one of the handiest fruits on the face of this planet, bananas are downright fascinating. Did you know they’re botanically considered a berry? They have all sorts of applications, and not just related to baking. What follows are 14 of their most interesting uses—we’d like to see an apple do all of this.
Cooking vegetarian and vegan recipes
Before you toss that banana peel away (or compost it), did you know it’s actually edible? That’s right, you can eat the banana skin—it’s a common ingredient in many global cuisines. It might even have some health benefits, though the studies have only been done on rats so far.
If you feel like experimenting, Dole has banana peel recipes that you can start with (some of which are vegan), or you can head over to TikTok to learn how to make banana peel bacon. Nigella Lawson’s recipe for banana peel curry caught the internet by surprise a few years ago, and the peels also make for a popular pulled pork substitute.
Flying Jacob might be one of the most unusual ways we’ve seen bananas used in a recipe. This casserole includes chicken, cream, and bananas all baked together then topped with bacon and peanuts. Whew.
While this might seem like an odd grouping of ingredients, the recipe is beloved in Sweden, where you can even find it in the grocery store freezer section under the name Chicken Jacob. But you don’t have to fly to Sweden to have some; we have a recipe for you here.
Adding flavor to ketchup
Banana ketchup is an indispensable condiment in the Filipino kitchen. It’s sweet, dyed bright red (it was created during a ketchup shortage in the Philippines 80 years ago), and doesn’t have to be used exclusively in place of its tomato-based counterpart. You can use it as a dipping sauce for chicken, serve it alongside breakfast silog, or use it as a cooking component (it excels in marinades). If you’re unfamiliar with the ingredient, make sure to pick up a bottle, and read more about it here.
The Elvis is probably the most widely known sandwich that celebrates a celebrity’s odd taste preferences. The combination of peanut butter, banana, and bacon is already an indulgent one, but when the sandwich is grilled, it reaches a whole new level. Rich, sweet, and salty, this pairing is one that few can resist. The Elvis might be the best celebrity recipe there is—we’ve yet to find anything to challenge it.
Ripening other fruit
Some produce is sold at the grocery store deliberately underripe so it can last longer in transit before it gets to you. This can be frustrating when you want to use it sooner rather than later—and that’s where bananas come in.
Ripe bananas emit ethylene, a plant hormone that triggers the process that ripens fruit. If you place ripe bananas in a paper bag with the other fruit you’d like to ripen, you should find that everything in the bag accelerates its ripening process. This is because the bag traps the ethylene gas around the fruit and helps move the process along quicker.
Understanding how the supply chain works
Remember the international shipping crisis of 2022? Unfortunately, we do too. It was a confusing, intricate snarl that had a lot of moving parts, but bananas, of all things, were the perfect case study for the average person to gain an understanding of the issue. A perishable fruit like bananas demonstrated how delicate shipments can be affected by a snag in the supply chain. The process of delivering overseas goods to American stores involves importers, ships, docks, and trucks, and one delay (or driver shortage, or other logistical complication) can cause a pileup of items waiting in ports, leaving your local produce section empty. Read more about it here.
Fertilizing your garden
Spring is hardcore gardening season, and those of you green thumbs should take note: banana peels make a great addition to the soil. There are several ways to integrate bananas into your garden; you can stick them in the dirt as-is to drive away pests, or blitz the peels to turn them into a nutrient-rich mulch for your garden beds. Even simpler, you can compost the peels, letting them break down at their own pace. However you use them, your plants will thank you.
Grilling a summer dessert
If the temps are comfortable enough that you can stand to be in the backyard for more than 10 minutes, that means it’s about grilling season. After a burger grilling session, you might want something sweet, in which case you can take some halved bananas with the peel still on and toss them on the still-hot grill, open side down. Once the fruit is softened and the face of each banana is caramelized, you can sprinkle them with sugar, chop them up, and serve them on top of ice cream or cake.
Baking an upside down cake
Pineapple upside down cake is yesterday’s news. We much prefer banana upside down cake, especially when the fruit is caramelized in brown sugar. If that doesn’t sound good to you, we can’t help you, but if that idea sounds as good as it should, don’t worry: we’ve got the recipe. There’s fruit in it, which means you can have it for breakfast, right? Right.
Had a pretty intense pickup game? Before you reach for the sports drink, try eating a banana instead. While sports drinks have some electrolytes, a banana is a well-rounded way to get some anti-inflammatory benefits and fuel without excess sugar. Don’t forget to stay hydrated.
Your eyes are not deceiving you: You can make a piano out of bananas. It’s possible thanks to some basic scientific principles involving electricity circuits and conductivity, but in short, with a little tinkering, you can create a working keyboard with bananas as the keys. This brings a whole new meaning to playing with your food.