A gentleman I met at work one night and I commenced chatting and discovered we both had some pretty odd allergies. While he may do good as Vice President raising funds for United Way, bananas do him no good, being one of his worst allergies.
Growing up, bananas caused extreme immune reactions and were impossible to “keep down”. One day, traveling to some lovely tropic place, he bit into what he thought were potato chips, to find they tasted extraordinarily like bananas. To his surprise, they were plantain chips, and caused no reaction.
Bananas and plantains are both of the same genus (Musaceae), and species (musa L), with little difference in composition besides bananas having greater water content and less starch, and plantains having a lower nuclear DNA content.
What’s going on, here?
After my curiosity was terribly peaked by this seemingly paradoxical allergy, I did some research, and this is what I’ve found:
1. Histamines in unripe fruit are less affective than in ripe fruit.* Plantains are harvested unripe, with the intention to ripen and be cooked, whereas common eating bananas, consumed raw, are harvested when ripened. Thus, eating the less-ripe plantain could be easier to tolerate.
2. Cooking fruits and vegetables reduces allergenicity. Most people are allergic to the proteins in food, which are altered when heat is applied. Plantains are starchy and, much like potatoes, do not taste good consumed raw. Thus, the only time you would consume a plantain would be cooked, as opposed to the sweet banana, decreasing allergic reactivity potential.
3. Common bananas sold in stores are monoculture.** The very high majority of eating banana that is available in stores, of brands such as Dole and Chiquita, is the monoculture “Cavendish”. It reproduces by essentially cloning itself, meaning, if someone is allergic to one banana, it will only persist, as we are all basically eating the same banana over and over again. In order to get a different, potentially allergy-free banana, it would have to be genetically modified, which would only increase propensity of an allergic reaction, as modifications on food increase potential for an allergenic product.*
What I find interesting for people with any fruit or vegetable allergy is that the unripe and cooked version is easier to consume. What happens for people with, let’s say, an apple allergy if they simply pick an unripe apple, cook it up with some sugar to add flavor, and can finally have that apple flavor they’ve been craving? Hmmm…
Regardless, here’s to Shawn Fincher, his odd allergy, and his ability to eat something delicious. Might I recommend serving over filet mignon. :)
2 large plantains, at least brown or black in color
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. sea salt
+enough high heat oil to coat saute’ pan with about 1 inch oil. (About 1-2 cups, depending on pan.)
Preparation time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
1. Slice plantains into 1/4” diagonal slices. Toss with spices and salt.
2. Heat oil in large saute’ pan over medium-high heat, until hot, but not smoking. Drop in bananas and fry on one side for about 2 minutes, or until browned, but not burnt, flip, and finish on the other side. Remove from oil, and finish with salt to taste.
*Vickerstaff Health Services, Inc.