The cultivation of bananas began in South East Asia in around 500BC. From there they were taken to Africa, via Madagascar, and, during the 6th century became established along the Mediterranean coastline. They reached the Canary Isles from Guinea, via the Portuguese, and it is believed that the Spanish took the banana to America.
The Canary banana varies in looks and taste from the common banana we would more commonly see in the rest of Europe and yet its origins are very similar. Both are varieties of the Cavendish – by far the most cultivated in the world – and the main differences are in growing and ripening techniques linked to consumer markets. The weather in the Canary Islands is not tropical and it can be variable. This means that the banana spends longer on the ´tree´- up to 6 months compared with the typical 3 months on a tropical plantation. This gives the Canary banana a higher level of ripeness, flavour and aroma. It has a higher moisture content, making it tastier that its more floury counterpart and it has higher potassium levels. Canarian bananas are picked just 2 weeks before optimum ripeness compared to a month or more for central American crops; thus the flavour will always be better and the reduced carbon footprint has meant that the Canarian crop is now finding increased markets within Europe.
The banana crop in the Canary Islands is a very important product representing 33% of the agricultural industry. Each year 400 million kilos of bananas are grown providing direct or indirect employment for around 30,000 people. 80% of the banana plantations there are operated by small producers with one hectare, or less, of land.This is in direct competition to the big guys of Central America – companies such as Chiquita/Fyffes, the largest, Dole and Del Monte – who account for more than half of the world´s exports which total some 105 million tonnes annually.