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Isla bananas are small to medium in size, averaging 7-10 centimeters in length, and are elongated in shape with a slight curve, angular edges, and a wide circumference. The smooth, semi-thick, peel ripens from green to yellow and may have some brown streaks or spots across the surface as it matures. Underneath the peel, the pulp is light pink to pale red with a creamy, soft, and slightly mealy texture. Isla bananas are aromatic and have a mild, sweet flavor.
Isla bananas are available in the spring through summer in Peru.
Isla bananas belong to the Musa genera in the Musaceae family and are found exclusively in Peru. Also known as Platano de la Isla and Isla de Mala, there are over seven different varieties of banana growing in Peru with the Isla banana ranking as one of the most popular varieties for everyday use. With this popularity, there has been a shift to increase cultivation, and it is estimated that fifteen to twenty percent of production acreage in Peru is allotted for growing the Isla banana for domestic use. Isla bananas are cultivated by hand and are favored by Peruvian locals for their ability to be both consumed raw and used in cooked preparations.
Isla bananas contain vitamins A, B6, and C, potassium, folic acid, and some calcium.
Isla bananas are best suited for both raw and cooked applications such as baking, boiling, and frying. When raw, the fruit should be left to mature until the peel develops brown-black markings and the peel can be easily removed revealing the pink flesh. These bananas are most commonly consumed by themselves when fresh, but they can also be sliced and mixed in with other fruits to create a fruit salad. When cooked, Isla bananas can be sliced thin and then baked or fried to create a crunchy chip, or they can be boiled and served with cooked meats or fish as a side dish. Slices of Isla bananas can also be dried for extended use and have a chewy, leathery texture, or the banana can be used for sweet preparations such as baked goods and desserts. Isla bananas pair well with fried eggs, beef, pork, and poultry, rice, garlic, onions, potatoes, and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. The fruits will keep 2-3 weeks at room temperature when young and green. When fully ripe, the bananas will keep 3-5 days at room temperature.
Isla bananas are grown in the city of Mala, which is located in the province of Canete in Peru. Mala is known for its banana production and has a unique climate that produces soil with high salinity or salt content. Many attribute the Isla banana’s flavor to the salty soil and because of this rare microclimate, it has kept the variety largely localized to the valley regions of Mala. Isla bananas are also known for their rumored ability to help reduce warts and are used in Peru to wean babies into eating their first solid foods.
Bananas are believed to be native to Southeast Asia and were transported to South America via trade routes, explorers, and missionaries during the 15th and 16th centuries. Today Isla bananas are exclusively found in Peru and are grown predominately in the city of Mala. Once cultivated, the bananas are transported across the country to be sold at fresh markets. The Isla bananas in the photo above were found at a market in Lima, Peru.