Local bananas: A cheat sheet on the common banana types sold here

Yellow, yellow, tasty fellow. Here is a guide to common banana types sold here.

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  • Pisang raja: Considered the king of bananas for eating and cooking. About 10 to 15cm long, with a thick skin and faceted shape. Robust, with slightly coarse flesh and a full, almost custardy flavour with well-balanced sweetness and acidity.

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  • Pisang berangan: About 10 to 12cm long, these bananas are also called ang bak chio, which means red-fleshed bananas in Hokkien. They have a pleasing acidity and slightly dry, starchy texture. Better eaten fresh than cooked. Let them ripen fully for the best flavour.

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  • Pisang mas: About 8cm long, these bananas are very thin-skinned and fragile when ripe. Their golden-yellow flesh is sweet and honey-like and faintly gelatinous. Best eaten fresh, not cooked. The "baby bananas" marketed as children's snacks are often pisang mas hybrids.

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  • Pisang lemak manis or 40-day bananas: Named for their quick maturation period, these bananas are the same size as pisang mas. They are distinguishable by their tapered tips, which are green when unripe. Sweet and creamy-textured, they are suitable for eating and cooking.

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  • Pisang rastali or kelat: These are 10 to 15cm long. Best when fully ripe, signalled by reddish-black mottling on their thin skin. They have creamy flesh with a jelly-like core and a bright, apple-like acidity. Good for eating and for goreng pisang.

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  • Pisang kepok: These are 8 to 10cm long, flattened and sharply faceted. Their pale flesh has a cottony texture when underripe, and starchy and mildly sweet when ripe. Often used for goreng pisang, jemput-jemput (mashed banana fritters), in kueh or steamed and eaten plain with grated coconut.

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  • Pisang merah: Plump and turgid, they are 12 to 15cm long. They taste similar to pisang rastali, although they are milder and creamier in texture. They blacken only faintly. Softness indicates ripeness.

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  • Kerala bananas: Also called nendrampazham or rajali kela, these are sold by Indian grocers. They are 15 to 20cm long and pointed. Great for cooking and eating. When very ripe with black patches, their golden flesh is pulpy, fragrant and very sweet, tasting like a raja-rastali cross.

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  • Cavendish: The most common supermarket banana cultivar, these are widely grown and exported globally, more because of their uniformity and durability than flavour. They are 20 to 25cm long, with smooth and creamy but bland flesh. Fragrant only when extremely ripe.

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  • Plantains: Starchy and very firm, plantains are mainly cooked for snacks and savoury dishes. Shown here is an Indian green plantain, 15 to 25 cm long, good for curries and banana chips. The other common local plantain is pisang tanduk, 25 to 35cm long and yellow when ripe.

Text and photos: Chris Tan

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 16, 2014

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