Bananas — Getting (and keeping) them just right

There are always bananas on hand at our house. Or, I should say, I try to always have them on hand at our house. I’m picky about the state of ripeness of the bananas I eat, so it’s not always easy to keep enough “good” bananas around.

Problem is, if I buy enough to last the week, they’re often too unripe to begin with and overly ripe by the end of the week. Short of shopping for bananas every couple of days, here are some tips to help keep them at their best for longer.

At the store

• Buy bananas at different stages of ripeness, from green to slight green on the stem, to yellow to yellow with little brown flecks (which is perfect for today’s lunch, in my book). My produce manager tells me it’s fine to break off what I want. (I’m careful.)

• Pack them carefully for the trip home. I pack my own groceries at the store, to prevent soft produce from getting bruised and mashed by cans and jars or frozen by ice cream cartons. And don’t leave bananas in the car while you run other errands if it’s very hot or very cold in the car. Either temp extreme will ruin the bananas, so unless the car is the ideal storage temp, get them home asap.

Once home

• Take bananas out of the bag (if you brought them home in plastic, don’t store them in plastic).

• Keep them at room temperature, out of the sun. If they get too hot, they’ll ripen too quickly, and if you chill them, you’ll hinder the ripening (and sweetening) process. (One online source says he stores his in different rooms, because the different temperatures result in staggered ripening. I’m not fond enough of bananas to want to see them in every room, though!)

• I like to separate my bananas from each other. If they’re at different stages of ripening, I want to maintain that. (I’m not going to eat them all on the same day.) There’s disagreement about whether storing bananas together in a bunch hastens or delays ripening. It makes sense to me that they’d ripen more quickly gathered together, but I can’t produce scientific evidence to back up my hunch.

I have, however, gathered some info on the “science” of controlling ripening.

To slow ripening of bananas:

• Leave the ends of the bananas wrapped in plastic (they often come this way). This slows down the escape of ethylene gas that promotes ripening. If you’ve separated your bananas, wrap the ends of each. (Apparently more ethylene gas is released from the tops of the bananas than elsewhere.)

• If your bananas are fully ripened and you don’t plan to eat them right away, separate them, then put them in the refrigerator, in the produce drawer. Yes, the skins will turn black, but they’ll still be perfectly edible. (Don’t refrigerate bananas before they’re ripe, though, or they may never get to that ripe, sweet stage.)

• Placing bananas in a preserving bag (e.g., green eco bags sold for produce) will also slow the release of ethylene gas and ripening. 

To hasten ripening of bananas:

• If your bananas are not ripe enough, and you’re eager to eat them, put them in a paper bag with another fruit, like an apple or tomato. 

• Put them in a warm (not hot) spot to speed the process.

Storage Tips

• If you have part of a banana to store (kids are notorious for starting and not finishing theirs, aren’t they?), simply cover up what’s left of the banana with the peel and put it in the produce drawer in the refrigerator. Again, it may turn dark, but it’ll be perfectly edible. (Some people take the extra step of covering the open end with plastic wrap, but I like to avoid using plastic wrap when I can, so I just use the peel as a cover.)

• If you have sliced bananas to store, spritz them with some lemon juice (or other acidic juice) and store them in a covered bowl in the refrigerator. Not too much juice, or you’ll ruin the flavor. 

To Freeze Bananas

To freeze bananas, place peeled chunks on a nonstick sheet and freeze. Then place the chunks in a freezer bag in the freezer. 

You can also just pop bananas in their peels into the freezer. They won’t look beautiful, but they’re fine for bread and smoothies. Keep in mind that you’ll need to defrost them a bit before you can peel them easily.

Do we really need banana holders?

The first time I saw a banana holder (one of those banana trees for the kitchen counter), I honestly thought it ridiculous. It takes up just as much space on the counter as the bananas in a bowl (or solo), and what does it do besides display them like artwork? Well, apparently, hanging your bananas prevents them from getting bruises where they are resting on a surface (or each other). It also provides better air circulation around them. 

BTW, there are also banana bungees— little hangers for hanging a banana or a bunch of them under your kitchen cupboard. 

I’m still not convinced I need either, but at least now I know the reasons they exist!

What are your favorite recipes for overripe bananas? My go-to is the same (slightly tweaked) healthful banana bread recipe I used in the late 1980s, from Recipes for a Small Planet.

Are you pro banana holder?

You might also like: Making your Produce Last: Storage tips for fruits and veggies—from the Farmers’ Market, CSA, local grocer, or your own garden! 

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Tip Sheet for Storing Produce

Tip Sheet for Storing Produce