Frozen Banana Smoothies

If you give your banana plants lots of tlc they can be extremely productive, and depending on how many you’ve got you might have several hands ripening up at any one time - faster than you can eat them all fresh. Unfortunately, we all know that ripe fruit has a very short storage time of only about a week at room temperature. This can be extended out maybe for another week if stored no lower than 13°C as below this they suffer chilling injury, typically first seen as skin blackening. Plants are fast growing and very nutrient hungry. Unless rigorously managed they can take over lots of space in your garden and shade out surrounding plants, so I don’t grow them anymore. But while I did, I settled on two techniques for extending enjoyment beyond the actual fruiting periods which I still use. Without my own supply these days, I occasionally see a bargain in commercial outlets where there might be a case of fruit that has been heavily discounted because the skin is not retail grade blemish-free, or they’ve gone slightly past their peak. With processing I can capitalise on these situations, buy up big and enjoy my bananas for months afterwards because I can handle them all before most would otherwise have to go in the bin.

The first technique involves drying slices, which come out beautifully with enhanced flavour. Provided you get the moisture level down sufficiently you can store them just chewy rather than brittle for many months without deterioration. Also these homemade ones are far healthier than the dried banana chips you see in supermarkets, where they start off with a healthy fruit with basically zero saturated fat, and then after their standard frying they can finish up at around 30% fat.

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My second technique is to make frozen banana smoothies. For optimal frozen storage time, fresh fruit and vegetables are best blanched before freezing; this denatures enzymes that would otherwise cause more rapid deterioration given their action is only slowed down and not stopped with freezing. Fruit are generally more acid than vegetables (some more so than others) so often you can get away without blanching if you don’t try and keep them for more than a couple of months or so. Start by peeling your bananas, maybe cut them in two, and then store in the freezer at -20°C. Like many fruit and vegetables that have been frozen, banana pieces finish up being terribly mushy and not nice at all when thawed, as the integrity of cell walls that give them their normal smooth texture when fresh will have been disrupted by ice crystals. This is solved by taking these frozen pieces and putting them through a slow-revving fruit blender than can be set to collect both fibre and pulp. I use a US-designed and manufactured machine (Champion) that has been doing all sorts of processing for me for about 10 years now, and it’s still going strong. They’re expensive brand new but often you can get second-hand ones at a fraction of the cost. The attraction of properly made machines is their longevity/reliability and availability of spare parts if ever needed. I’m expecting mine to out-live me, but you may find other makes that you feel can do an equivalent job.

Everyone has different palates and there are a few people amongst us who don’t like bananas; the rest of us think they’re a really good fruit. Evidence of the scale of consumption in Australia was when cyclone Larry devastated the main supplies in north Queensland some years back and this had a negative impact on our national GDP. My smoothies come out about the consistency of very thick yoghurt and taste just like ice-cream without the nutritional negatives of added fat, sugar etc. You can also enhance their appeal and flavour by freezing some blueberries and sprinkling these in at the time of processing, giving a striped appearance in the final product. However the straight ‘vanilla’ form is good enough to not really need any enhancements and gets the thumbs up from just about everyone who’s tried them.

Barry Madsen

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