Can You Eat Wild Bananas?

Wild bananas can commonly be found throughout tropical regions, such as Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, as well as through regions of Africa and Southeast Asia that concurrently experience high temperatures and high rainfall.

People who live in these types of regions are likely to see these wild bananas on a fairly regular basis, and if you have seen one, you’re likely to wonder if they’re edible, and maybe even more important, whether they’re tasty. 

Can You Eat Wild Bananas?

This article will investigate whether humans can snack on wild bananas found in the rainforest, or if they’re best avoided if you don’t want an upset stomach. 

Can You Eat Wild Bananas?

The brief answer: yes! You can eat wild bananas just as you can eat bananas bought at your local supermarket.

They might not taste exactly the same as the bananas you’re used to, because farmers have spent centuries selectively breeding grocery store bananas for their distinctive taste. 

Like the store-bought banana, the flavor and texture of wild bananas are highly dependent on the ripeness.

When ripe, some have reported that bananas they have found in the rainforest are sweet and creamy, with a slight berry flavor, whereas if the banana is unripe, it will have a dry, powdery texture, and taste bitter and chalky, very similar to the taste of an unripe, overly starchy supermarket banana. 

The flavor of the banana you eat will also depend on the type of banana you find. There are 79 known types of wild bananas, of which we will be discussing three types. 

  • Musa acuminata = found in the Malay Archipelago, and is commonly thought of as the origin of the domesticated banana (either by itself or via hybridization with Musa balbisiana). The taste is said to be light, creamy and sweet, with a raspberry aftertaste. 
  • Musa balbisiana = found originally in Amboina (modern-day Indonesia), is filled with hard, stony, inedible seeds, although the flesh is sweet. 
  • Musa haekkineii = most recently discovered of these bananas, Musa haekkineii was first discovered in Northern Vietnam, though it can be grown in India and Singapore too. This variety has a slightly acrid, sour taste. 

As with eating many types of wild or foraged produce – it is best to use your common sense.

Don’t continue to eat something that you can’t identify, if it tastes bad, if there are any marks from insects that you think might have made their way inside the fruit, or if you think it isn’t ripe. 

Most Wild Bananas Are Packed With Seeds Though

Although the short answer to the question ‘are wild bananas edible?’ is ‘yes, they are’, the slightly longer one is ‘yes, but they’ve not been cultivated in the same way as store-bought fruits, and hence are likely to be brimming with bitter seeds’. 

Wild bananas have between 15v and 62 seeds per fruit. These seeds, which are the size of garbanzo beans or garden pea, are incredibly hard and can prevent people from fully chewing the fruit.

In combination with the chewy banana flesh, eating wild bananas can become a little troublesome. 

As most of the volume of a wild banana is their tough seeds, there is little nutritional value to be gleaned from them. The fruit flesh is not calorically dense, and the tough seeds are basically impossible to digest.

In summary, though wild bananas are not likely to cause you any harm or poison you, they might not be the best for you due to their low nutritional value, and if you dislike the hassle of eating around the seeds, they are definitely not for you. 

Although Sometimes You Get Lucky And Find A Seed-Free Wild Banana

Though we have spent time explaining that wild bananas are jam-packed with rock rock-hard seeds and inedible seeds the size of peas, there are a couple of varieties of wild bananas that are seed free.

Found in the forest for Costa Rica, seedless fruit known as ‘baby bananas’ can be found on small shrub-like trees. One hand of these soft seedless bananas will contain around 60 fruits, which are usually between three and four inches long. 

How To Eat Wild Bananas

If you still fancy eating wild bananas after hearing about their stony seed interior, then you don’t necessarily have to go foraging through rainforests looking for them. They can also be found in local markets in tropical regions all over the world. 

You can eat a wild banana in many of the same ways you can eat their regular counterparts – in smoothies, banana bread and other puddings.

Just be mindful that there isn’t as much flesh in these wild bananas, and adapt your recipes accordingly.

Alternately, you ask locals or the shop owner who sold you the bananas how they prefer to eat them; undoubtedly they will have a wealth of experience and will be able to give you the best tips on eating them. 

Differences To Store-Bought Bananas

They might look a little different from the bananas you see on store shelves though – often, wild bananas have different colored skin as store bananas, for example, Musa acuminata can have red or purple colored skin, that starts off green when unripe.

Most wild bananas are far smaller than their grocery store cousins, ranging from around 1 to 3 ½ inches in size. 

Differences in the shape and structure of wild bananas are dependent on the variety they are and the climate they were grown in.

An example of a structural difference between bananas is that the skin may not peel off effortlessly and cleanly, as we are used to with grocery bananas. 

Additionally, when eating wild bananas, it is important to bear in mind that each one will be different. Not only may you be eating a different species of banana, but they are all grown in different conditions, which can lead to different tastes.

The flavor profile of a banana is highly dependent on the temperature, wind, humidity and rainfall in the area they were grown in.

With shop-bought bananas, they can be cultivated in highly controlled environments, with things like water and light, and even humidity, regulated by farmers and mechanics.

Obviously, this cannot be achieved when wild bananas are grown in the forest and are therefore subject to the whims of nature. 

History Of Banana Agriculture 

Bananas originated in the Malay Archipelago of Southeast Asia, and banana farmers have spent thousands of years selectively breeding these fruits to make them appeal to people getting their groceries.

This meant breeding out the hard, stony seeds, in favor of the tiny pin-prick seeds you can see in a modern banana. The bananas were bred to become thicker and longer, as well as significantly sweeter. 

The first attempts at domesticating the banana seem to have been made in Papua New Guinea, at least 5000 BC, as proved by archaeological evidence.

As we have previously touched upon, bananas were originally domesticated for regular cultivation using a combination of wild banana species Musa balbisiana and Musa acuminata.

From this small subset of wild bananas, several types of domesticated bananas were created.

Traits that were prioritized when selectively breeding the banana were size, sweetness and the ability for plants to create new fruit without being banana flowers being pollinated. 

Resulting from these criteria, the popular Cavendish banana was born.

This banana is the most common type found in shops – it is characterized by its long, cylindrical, and curved structure, and as it ripens it goes from a bright green to a bright yellow color.

Unlike the wild banana, the Cavendish banana’s flesh is soft but firm, rather than chewy. On average, the Cavendish banana is around seven inches long, which is more than double the average wild banana. 

They are the most popular type of banana for consumers because of their creamy, smooth texture and thin, easily peelable skin.

They are also popular with banana growers, as they have increased pest resistance when compared with earlier iterations, and also grow on a more compact plant so that farmers can have a higher yield of fruit on the same sized plot of land. 

Final Thoughts 

In summation – yes, you can eat wild bananas, and in some senses, they might even be beneficial. They will provide you with a variety in your diet, and some people think they are even more delicious than their shop-bought counterparts. 

However, their large quantities of stony seeds may make eating them difficult, different seasons can make the harvest and taste unpredictable, and they might be hard to come by if you don’t live in an area with the right climate. 

Jess Smith
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