Bananas are not being as exploited as much as they could be in prepared food, according to researchers, and research could stimulate greater interest from industry in a fruit that has long-standing popularity with consumers.
According to FAO figures, 103 million tonnes of banana were produced in tropical regions of the world in 2004. While the fruits – both cooking and dessert – are eaten in a variety of forms by populations local to production, researchers from the University des Antilles and Guyana note that “few bananas produced undergo industrial processing”.
In an article accepted for publication in Trends in Food Science and Technology, they suggest that better characterisation of bananas, their processed products and the processed forms in which they may be consumed, would aid communication and open up new niche markets.
Since bananas in their whole fruit form are the subject of fierce trade competition between producing regions, this could give the players scope to offer banana in exciting new product formats.
“The options for consumers need to be diversified, and new commercial niches need to be found, to enable better use of production.”
Indeed, in 1999 it was estimated that only one thousandth of annual global dessert banana production was destined for industrial processing.
Besides being eaten as a basic foodstuff, bananas have more of a history of use in domestic and regional products, eaten as crisps, purees, fritters, jams, wines, pastries, desserts and ice-creams, to mention but a few.
But the researchers note: “Very few of these products are found in the occidental mass market type, showing importance and consumption forms comparable to products from orange and apple.”
At present, in supermarket-sold processed products they are mainly used as minor ingredients, or not more than 30 per cent, in products like breakfast foods, nibbles and baby foods.
One area of great interest for bananas is their antioxidant composition, knowledge of which is only developing. Studies have shown that cooking cultivars tend to be especially rich in antioxidants; and dopamine and vitamin C contents are said to give them high antioxidant levels.
Their high energy content, vitamins and minerals, make them suitable for use by athletes, helping to prevent muscular contractions – and, to some extent, this has been picked up by a small number of food makers.
“To promote the presence of bananas, and tropical fruits and vegetables, in the modern consumer’s shopping basket, we need to develop elements of knowledge to enable the mergence of crops and products in phase with the changing motivations of today’s consumers,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.
They suggest an integrated approach to research, considering biodiversity, functional genomics, agro-pedoclimatic production conditions, development and maturation physiology, and post-harvest development of useful compounds, according to conditions.
In particular, they note that treatment and molecular extraction technologies, and more efficient analytical tools, could make real contributions to better understanding of their nutritent content.
“An inventory of traditional uses demonstrates that bananas have positive effects on certain physiological functions,” they say.
However the recommendation is that research take place as close as possible to places of production, “to ensure optimum integration of the eco-physiological reality of target resources”.
Source: Trends in Food Science and Technology (online ahead of print)
“Bananas, raw materials in making processed food products”
Authors: Guylene Aurore, Berthe Parfait, Louis Fahasmane