Cooked or raw, Fe’i bananas are delicious and nutritious
Take a trip with this delightful fruit to the Pacific Islands
When thinking of this fruit we love so much what is the image that first pops to mind? Perhaps a green or a yellow with a greenish tint energy food? Or maybe a banana packaged in a perfect shade of yellow? If that’s the case, then it is time to broaden that perspective.
Say hello to the Fe’i banana! This traditional crop has a skin which is brilliantly orange to red in colour with yellow or orange flesh inside.
Where it originated
Little is known about the origins of Fe’i bananas, although various authors have speculated about possible wild ancestors. Fe’i bananas are thought to have originated in the New Guinea area and from there, were spread westward through the Pacific by human travellers. They are widely distributed across the Pacific Islands, ranging from Moluccas and New Guinea to the Marquesas Islands. This type of banana used to be an important staple food in Tahiti but has become increasingly rare following the introduction of other types of bananas and a shift to eating imported foods.
What you should know
This unique group of cultivars are distinguished by the bright orange colour of the mature fruit and the colour of the sap, which ranges from dark violet to pink (as opposed to the milky or nearly clear sap of most other bananas). In addition, the inflorescence bracts of the Fe’i bananas are a bright shiny green, in comparison to the normal dull red or purple of other bananas.
Fe’i bananas are a significant food crop in the Marquesas and in the Society Islands, where they have the status of a prestige food and are thus an essential component of feasts and other special occasions. In the past, they were usually cooked by roasting in a pit with other food items, but by the early 20th century it was becoming more common for the fruit to be boiled in water. The flesh even after cooking is distinctly starchy, though it may be sweetish if the fruit is allowed to soften before cooking. Scientists reported that the sweet pulp of the variety ‘Afara’ was considered of the highest quality and was sometimes cooked and fed to infants at the time of weaning.
- The reddish-violet sap of the Fe’i bananas is very distinctive and, perhaps due to the presence of stabilizing substances, unusually stable under exposure to light. This sap is used as a dye and ink.
- The varieties of Fe’i banana tend to be resistant to many pests and diseases and require little attention.
- In Tahiti, freshly cut pseudostems are very buoyant and were sometimes pegged and lashed together to make temporary rafts for crossing inland streams and lakes.
- An unusual physiological effect of eating the fruit is that the yellow flesh discolours the urine of those who eat it.
- The fibres of the midrib of the leaves can be used to make ropes, often used to carry bunches of bananas. Other fibrous parts of the leaves can be dried and plaited into mats and similar items.
- The dark orange Fe’i banana variety known as Suria in the Micronesian island of Pohnpei contains about 200 times more provitamin A carotenoids (7 124 micrograms per 100g fresh banana) than the popular white Cavendish banana (38 micrograms per 100g fresh banana).
- An adult woman needs to eat only 60g of the Suria banana (little more than half of this small banana) to meet her vitamin A requirement for the day.
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a public health problem in many countries, especially among people who are dependent on plant sources for their vitamin A. Help us spread the word and promote the consumption and introduction of the Fe’i banana to more tropical regions.
Send us pictures on our Instagram account with the hash tag #traditionalcrops, #feibanana and any facts you might know about this crop.
- Kuhnlein, H. V. (2003). Micronutrient nutrition and traditional food systems of indigenous peoples. Food Nutrition and Agriculture, (32), 33-39.
- Amorim, E. P., e Silva, S. D. O., de Oliveira Amorim, V. B., & Pillay, M. (2011). 13 Quality Improvement of Cultivated Musa. Banana Breeding: Progress and Challenges, 251.
- Sharrock, S. (2001), "Diversity in the genus Musa: focus on Australimusa", in INIBAP, Networking Banana and Plantain: INIBAP Annual Report 2000 (PDF), Montpellier, France: International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain, pp. 14–19.
- Englberger, Lois; Lyons, Graham; Foley, Wendy; Daniells, Jeff; Aalbersberg, Bill; Dolodolotawake, Usaia; Watoto, Claudine; Iramu, Ellen; Taki, Belden; Wehi, Francis; Warito, Peter; Taylor, Mary (2010), "Carotenoid and riboflavin content of banana cultivars from Makira, Solomon Islands", Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 23 (6): 624–632,doi:10.1016/j.jfca.2010.03.002
- MacDaniels L.H. 1947. A study of the Fe’i banana and its distribution with reference to Polynesian migrations. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 190. Honolulu, Hawaii. 56pp.
- Use of banana diversity for nutritious diets.