Banana, the fruit of the genus Musa, of the family Musaceae, one of the most important fruit crops of the world. The banana is grown in the tropics, and, though it is most widely consumed in those regions, it is valued worldwide for its flavor, nutritional value, and availability throughout the year.
Cavendish, or dessert, bananas are most commonly eaten fresh, though they may be fried or mashed and chilled in pies or puddings. They may also be used to flavor muffins, cakes, or bread. Cooking varieties, or plantains, are starchy rather than sweet and are grown extensively as a staple food source in tropical regions; they are cooked when ripe or immature. Ripe fruit contains as much as 22 percent of carbohydrates and is high in dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, and vitamins B6 and C.
Bananas are thought to have been first domesticated in Southeast Asia, and their consumption is mentioned in early Greek, Latin, and Arab writings; Alexander the Great saw bananas on an expedition to India. Shortly after the discovery of America, bananas were taken from the Canary Islands to the New World, where they were first established in Hispaniola and soon spread to other islands and the mainland.
Cultivation increased until bananas became a staple foodstuff in many regions, and in the 19th century, they began to appear in the markets of the United States. Although Cavendish bananas are by far the most-common variety imported by nontropical countries, plantain varieties account for about 85 percent of all banana cultivation worldwide.