Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Save the Bananas. But make muffins first.

I know that some people think that the extinction of bananas is a myth. While not every variety of banana is at risk, the most known and available type of banana in the US, the Cavendish, is heading towards extinction. There are hundreds of varieties of bananas, which many Americans would be suprised to learn as 90% of the time bananas in the market are yellow and uniform in size.
The plants - not trees - that yield bananas are actually giant herbs, the largest herbs in the world. The bananas themselves are actually berries. Bananas ripen best off of the plant they grow on and are picked and shipped every day of the year. Bananas are the most popular fresh fruit in the United States. In fact, the average American eats nearly 30 pounds of bananas every year, roughly 100 bananas! Currently, bananas are the world's fourth most profitable food crop, behind rice wheat and potatoes. Almost 88 million tons (80 million metric tonnes) are harvested each year, with India being the largest producer. Bananas have 1.2 grams of protein, are high in vitamins b6, C and potassium and contain lots of fiber, among their other nutrients. It is possible to live on a diet of just milk and bananas. Good to know.
Now, I love bananas. I love them plain and I love to cook with them. I'll miss the cavendish if and when it goes, but I will enjoy having more banana options at the market. To thoroughly enjoy the lovely, yellow bananas currently in my kitchen, I made some banana muffins and topped them with a banana crumb topping. I put such a thick crumb layer on the muffins, it only covered 8 of the 12 in the batch. I did not mind that the rest were plain, but I would advise you to use a more judicious distribution of the crumb topping. Shortening makes a slightly softer crumb in the topping, but you can substitute an equal amount of butter.

Banana Crumb Muffins
Muffin batter:
1 ½ cups ap flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup buttermilk
1 egg
2/3 cup (2 medium) mashed bananas, divided
1 tsp vanilla

Crumb topping:
½ cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp shortening, cut into small pieces.
1 tbsp mashed banana (reserved from 2/3 cup mashed banana)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line 12 muffin tins with paper liners.

Prepare the crumb topping: In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Cut shortening into flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Larger crumbs are a bit more desirable. Stir in the mashed banana and set bowl aside.

Prepare the batter: In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, vegetable oil, buttermilk, egg, bananas and vanilla. Pour flour mixture into banana mixture and stir until batter is just combined. Spoon into muffin tins, filling each 2/3 full. Top each muffin with crumb mixture, dividing it evenly.
Bake for 18-21 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the muffins spring back when gently touched.
Makes 12 muffins