Ripening Bananas at Home

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Bananas are always the same shade of yellow. That’s a shame, because we’re missing out on a lot of flavour. But with a bit of know-how, we'll never have to be bored by yellow again.

Green, unripe bananas

When stored correctly, these green, unripe bananas transform into sweet, yellow fruit within a few days. But you can also prepare them while they're still green. As a side dish, they are a great alternative to potatoes or rice.

"Ripening bananas is a very tricky process. It requires a lot of intuition" wrote Ursula Brunner in her book about the Banana Women's movement. She came to this conclusion after the Banana Women brought bananas to Switzerland for the first time in 1986.

At that time, the Banana Women were struggling with fruit that became brown too quickly or turned an ashen grey colour instead of bright yellow. Banana ripener Hans Roelli helped the women, explaining to them that bananas need to be carefully monitored while ripening.

So why can't bananas be harvested when ripe? Unlike most other types of fruit, bananas only ripen after they are harvested. If they are left on the plant, they burst and become mealy. That’s why the fruits are picked from the plant while they are still green. This also makes them easy to transport and it's the reason the tropical fruit is now widely available throughout the world.

Yellow bananas account for only a fraction of the flavour spectrum

We rarely find green bananas in supermarkets. The bananas on the shelves are always the same shade of yellow, perhaps with a sprinkling of brown spots. They are at the end stages of ripening and only account for a fraction of the banana's flavour spectrum.

Bananas can be more than just yellow and sweet, as three of our employees discovered. Each of them took home a crate of bananas from the Dominican Republic in November 2019. Green, unripe bananas. Their aim was to find out what they could do with the green fruit.

"It's not that hard to ripen bananas at home", they concluded. "But you have to expect the unexpected." For example, the bananas could all become ripe at once.

Which would of course be a problem if you had 18 kilos of them. But thanks to the work of our three guinea pigs, we now know how you can avoid this problem and what you need to watch out for.

Factors that influence the shelf life of green bananas

  • Optimal harvesting point
  • Storage temperature: After harvesting, cool rapidly to under 14 degrees Celsius, then store at 13 to 14 degrees Celsius. Temperature is also one of the critical factors in later ripening.
  • Humidity

Banana farmers in the Dominican Republic pack the bananas into a plastic bag without a protective atmosphere. The plastic bag is important because it keeps the fruit moist. High moisture levels stop the bananas from producing ethylene. The gas, which is also released by apples, kiwis, avocados and mangos, sets off the ripening process after harvesting. No gas, no unwanted ripening.

As long as the bananas are kept at temperatures between 13 and 14 degrees Celsius, they can be stored at home for two to three weeks. You should try not to let the temperature fall below 13 degrees, otherwise the fruit may be damaged by the cold and will not ripen at all. Instead, it will turn completely brown. But even these bananas, like the green ones, can still be used in savoury dishes.

Green bananas in their packaging

This is what the unripe bananas look like when you receive them – in their natural packaging.

Important factors for ripening

  • The ripening time at a constant room temperature (around 20 degrees) is 3-21 days, depending on the season and temperature at delivery. Ripening takes quite a bit longer during the winter months.
  • Bruised bananas produce more ethylene than unbruised bananas. So it's important to inspect all the bananas and separate the bruised ones from the unbruised ones when you receive your delivery. Allow the bruised fruits to ripen first.
  • Once the ripening process has begun, it can no longer be stopped.
  • Bananas will not ripen in an airtight container, such as a Ziploc bag. In this way, you can delay ripening by up to two weeks.
  • To speed up the ripening process, you can put the bananas together with an apple into a paper bag, lightly score the peel and put the bag near a heat source.
  • Bananas that have not started turning yellow after 2-3 weeks should be used green.

The authors of Gartenjournal Magazine (German only) distinguish between seven different colour shades that you can use to determine the ripening stage of your bananas:

  • Dark green: Newly harvested
  • Light green: The banana has begun the ripening process
  • Green with a trace of yellow: The bananas are delivered to supermarkets in summer
  • Yellow with a trace of green: The bananas are delivered to supermarkets in winter
  • Yellow with green tips: Ideal stage for selling at supermarkets.
  • Yellow: The best time to eat the banana, depending on individual preferences.
  • Yellow with brown spots: Eat right away.

Keep these tips in mind and you'll become a successful banana ripener. Then you can bring your 18 kilos of bananas to the perfect stage ripeness, one batch at a time.

But you don't have to go to all that trouble if you want to use the bananas as a side dish in place of potatoes. All you'll need is firm, green bananas.

There are even entire dishes centred around green bananas. Like the green bananas used in Aji-Li-Mojili sauce. For instructions on how to prepare this northern Caribbean dish complete with photos, visit wikiHow: How to Cook Green Bananas. Or just boil them like Ras Mackab does.

For more banana recipes, visit our blog.

If a lot of your bananas become too ripe, you can use them to make banana bread or cake. Most of these recipes call for overripe bananas. You'll find plenty of inspiration on the Epicurious website.

Pre-ordering bananas

Last February, we received a test shipment of fresh bananas from the Dominican Republic. We ended up giving 3,600 kilograms of bananas to our customers! The experiment was a success, even though the bananas took quite long to ripen for many of our customers due to the colder temperatures. We're certain that with some practice, you'll be able to ripen bananas at home too. The green bananas are now available again for pre-order in our online shop!

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