Bananas have always been a quick and healthy go-to snack for those on a vegan diet. Enjoyed on their own, and in desserts, they are considered as one of the most versatile fruits. However, with scientific techniques emerging to help keep bananas ripe for longer, the possibility that bananas may contain ingredients derived from animals is a growing concern.
The health benefits of eating bananas
Bananas can help to lower levels of stress and anxiety. They contain serotonin, which is known to be a natural antidepressant that can help to fight anxiety and fatigue. Another benefit is that bananas provide a natural detox for your body. This is due to pectin which is a source of fibre that flushes out your body and removes toxins like mercury which can trigger harmful effects.
Why do bananas turn brown so quickly?
Though bananas are a delicious and healthy snack, it’s well-known that they change from their bright yellow skin into brown very quickly – usually before we can even eat the whole bunch, and this can be a little inconvenient. This browning is due to a gas called ethylene. While most fruits indeed are similar in nature to bananas and also produce ethylene during their ripening process, bananas tend to produce a much bigger amount of this and therefore, this will cause the bananas yellow coloured skin to break down and become too ripe, leaving them brown.
This browning process has led to the rise of ‘non-vegan bananas’
To combat this browning, scientists have been searching for ways to extend the life of a banana to keep it fresh and yellow for longer. The National Meeting of the American Chemical Society revealed their spray-on discovery to extend the life of bananas. Xihong Li, the leader of this study stated that “by spraying green bananas with a chitosan aerogel, we can keep bananas fresh for up to 12 days” and thus, extend their shelf life.
The coating used to stop bananas from browning is derived from crab shells
However, though this does sound convenient and useful in the aims of keeping bananas yellow for longer, there is one issue and it especially affects those following a strict vegan diet or even those with allergies – this spray on coating is made from chitosan.
Chitosan is an ingredient obtained from crab shells and as a result, the peel of bananas sprayed with chitosan are not vegan-friendly. Though it is not definitive if the spray-on seeps into the banana itself it should be kept in mind that even though bananas have skin, when soil is sprayed with pesticides, it usually is absorbed into the banana.
This is also an environmental issue
Ashley Koff, a registered dietitian and nutrition expert says “Some people say that bananas aren’t as much of an issue because we don’t eat their skin, so we’re protected from sprays. But the impact of chemicals… isn’t limited to what we eat on the fruit. It extends to what is in the soil, on the soil, and depleted”
Spray sold separately?
Xihong Li expressed that this coating could “be used at home by consumers, in supermarkets or during shipment of bananas.” If the spray-on was to be sold separately from the fruit, vegans and those prioritising banana shelf life could both get what they wished.
For example, those wanting to preserve their bananas for longer and those who do not follow a vegan diet or are not allergic to crab shells could opt for this and apply the spray-on at home when needed while those whose lifestyle does not agree with such an ingredient could avoid the spray-on and continue enjoying their naturally vegan bananas.
The solution for vegans: buy organic bananas
Those wanting to make sure their bananas are free from unnatural interferences can always opt for organic bananas which remain vegan-friendly.
Organic: better for the environment
Plus, organic bananas are better for the environment. Kendra Worobetz from the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta says “It is not a secret that current practices of banana farming in many areas of the world are contributing to the destruction of tropical rainforests- one of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet. 75% of the earth’s biodiversity lives in these forests.”
Thus, by opting for organic bananas, we can avoid contributing to the large banana plantations that require cutting down rainforests and as a result, promote sustainability and help the planet. This is because organic farming is “a holistic system of production which promotes and improves the agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity.”
Moreover, the fertilisers used for ordinary bananas eventually end up in the ocean and can cause damage to animals. These toxins can be applied on plantations up to forty times a year and add up to a hefty 44 kilograms.
Organic: better for people
In contrast, organic bananas are grown naturally, avoiding such fertilisers and pesticides. These fertilisers are not only bad for animal and human consumption but can be harmful to be around. For example, those who work on these plantations who are in touch with these toxins can suffer some serious harm – this is what occurred in the case of Dole Food Co who faced a lawsuit as their workers argued that they suffered harm due to contact with pesticide.
Tips for keeping organic bananas fresh for longer
Downsides to buying organic bananas include that they are more expensive than regular bananas and they usually bruise much faster. However, there are luckily a few tricks to give your bananas a longer life; you could put them in the freezer or wrap the stems of the banana in some plastic wrap. This limits the ethylene produced and effectively avoids quick ripening.
If your bananas are already brown, this means they have a higher sugar content, making them perfect for baking if you do not want to consume them directly – a great way to avoid wasting them.
Perhaps bananas are not completely written off; vegans can still consume organic bananas and whilst doing this, also contribute to the sustainable growth of bananas.
Next up: read up on the debate about whether or not Oreos are really vegan…