Bananas at Tel Aviv's Carmel Market (Daniel Tchetchik)
African bananas being sold in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market. Photo by Daniel Tchetchik
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Banana lovers in Israel have been quite disappointed over the last few months. Gigantic green bananas can be found on store shelves, but anyone who gathers the courage to peel one finds that what's on the inside is simply way too mushy. Bananas like these can be used for baking, or stuck in the freezer and blended into a fruit shake. But eating them on their own? That's only for the bold.

True, there are some people who loathe this fruit - maybe because of childhood memories of a daycare worker who served overly smashed bananas in cream and made them finish every bit. But those who are fond of the fruit know it is an excellent addition to granola, and a gourmet dessert when baked with wine and sugar, with a scoop of ice cream on the side.

While Israel is not yet a banana power, it is well on its way to becoming one. The banana is grown on many farms here, and its trees bear fruit 10 months a year. A solution was even found for the hot summer, which the banana doesn't like: Shade nets are stretched over some of the fields to protect the fruit.

The average Israeli eats about 30 kilos of bananas a year - much less than inhabitants of South America or East Asia, where they consume 10 times as much. According to Yuval Levy, an expert on growing bananas, this is due to the fact that in those countries they eat them not only as fresh fruit. There they dry bananas, grind them into flour, roast them, bake bread with them and even use them to brew a beer-like beverage. In Africa, the stem of some varieties of banana is also eaten.

"As far as eating a plain banana goes, Israel is definitely a world leader in consumption, particularly among the children," Levy says.

Still, the general manager of the Israel Fruit Growers Association, Ilan Eshel, admits that bananas here have been "less beautiful" more recently thanks to the heat waves that hit in September, October and now in November as well.

"The heat causes the fruit to ripen early and yields one of lesser quality," Eshel explains. "In the past, the banana would ripen in October and finish its season in May. Now we are marketing bananas nearly all year round. All the bananas eaten in Israel are grown here, there are no imports."

"The moment you pick a banana," he adds, "the clock starts ticking. Therefore it's always best to pick it the moment before it ripens, so it will reach the consumer in good shape - and not too soft. Israelis eat bananas of the Grand Naine variety, picked the week before at most."

It's place on the dessert menu

Bananas have been growing in Israel since the 16th century, and perhaps even before then. The current variety, which originates in South America, has been grown here since the start of the 20th century.

"I hope the big heat waves are behind us and in the coming weeks the fruit will again be yellow on the outside and solid on the inside," Levy says.

Incidentally, a new and helpful item has become available in stores over the last few months: a yellow cloth bag for the cool storage of bananas, in order to keep them for a longer period of time - two weeks instead of one, to be precise. (At the Cook Store chain, they can be found for NIS 50 each. )

Confectioner Miki Shemo, who himself loves the yellow fruit, is working to ensure that the banana's place on the dessert menu is not taken for granted, like that of the apple, for example.

"But I believe that the banana is on the right track," he says. "It's a very Israeli fruit, enjoyed especially with chocolate and walnuts and it also combines very well into a passion fruit tart. It isn't simple to use, either. You have to work with ripe bananas, but not too ripe. I like to use a combination of banana and chocolate in a marble cake. And what is more Israeli than combining strawberry and banana?"