Culinary Taste Buds
From Martinique and Guadeloupe
Welcome to the heart of the French Caribbean. Bananas are much more than just fruits they are the backbone of the islands, its future hope, medication and pain all wrapped in one. It's even the basis of a Museum located in the city of Saint Marie. Saint Marie a town located in the north the cradle of a musical dance form called Bélé. A beautiful bay town constantly affected by hurling winds from the atlantic ocean is where the banana has established its history within one of the most important fertile grounds of Martinique. The banana museum is situated on the former sugarcane plantation Habitation Limbé. Once there the visitor can explore all facets of the banana production.
Visiting the Museum
The museum is housed within a creole style house that is open air which allows for ventilation from the breeze of the ocean. Inside you will find out all that there is to know about bananas.
Bananas do not come from trees they are in fact sprouted from grass. Grass that can reach up to six meters height. A stem of grass can carry three different years of banana : bananas of the current year, bananas of the previous year and bananas for the next year. Just like a mother nursing a child of different breast feeding years.
The variety of bananas found in Martinique is originally from Southeast Asia. The first seeds were black wild seeds. It evolved as it traveled the world becoming fruits with pulp composed primarily of 90% of water, rich in carbohydrates, potassium and vitamin c all of which are healthy for the body. It is recognized for its astringent, diuretic, disinfectant and medicinal properties. Not only are bananas used in the traditional pharmacopeia of Martinique they are also used in modern medicine in the fight against heart disease. In recent years companies have been working on the development of a kind of textile fiber extracted from the petiole of a banana leaf. The beginnings are filled with promises and virtues.
One out of every 20 French West Indian works in the Banana sector either directly or indirectly. It is the main private employer in Martinique from picking to exporting this engine of the Caribbean economy sustains jobs,creates new jobs, business development,while opening it up to the global market. New agricultural practices allow for labeling and valuation of crops. There are more than 30 different trades linked to the banana business and over 60% of agricultural workers in the field. Every week some twenty seven million bananas or 119,000 tons of bananas are exported to France. Globally that represents more than 110 million tonnes or about 3330 kilograms of bananas per second. Making the banana,one of the most consumed fruits in the world. India is the world’s largest producer followed by China and the Philippines.
In 2017, consumption spiked in Europe growing almost 5%. This jump in consumption benefitted in particular the American Company giants Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte all producing what is generally referred to the “Dollar Banana”. To counter this there is an alternative known as the organic banana. Marketing to retail chains represents about 12% of sales in France. The company BanaMart and its approximately 620 partners have developed a new concept called the French Fair Trade Banana launched at a 2018 Agricultural Show. Farmers from Martinique and Guadeloupe are advocating for the recognition of their quality of work amidst the onslaught of overseas bananas flooding the French market. Bananas which are often not held up to the same strict controls as the French West Indian bananas are. Don’t hesitate to visit the Banana Museum you will see how things are done right!
Before discussing the 55 varieties of bananas we must first mention the use of the pesticide Chlordecone (Kepone compound) from 1972 to 1993. The organochlorine compound used to protect crops consequentially seeped into soil and various waterways such as rivers, creeks, and the ocean. This compound is expected to continue to persist in contaminated soil and waterways for centuries to come. Although banned in 1990 in metropolitan france it continued to be used in the overseas states such as Martinique. The banana crop business found itself caught in a vicious cycle. The pesticide was used with the intent on killing weevils, beetles, that are harmful to the vitality of the crop, a crop which is the backbone of the economy here and elsewhere in the overseas french states. However in doing so the lives of the workers and citizens of the various states were put in grave danger. The french online investigative journal Mediapart revealed on July 3,2019 that French National Institute of Health and Medical Research admitted to “the causal relationship between the exposure to chlordecone and the risk of developing prostate cancer is likely”. Finally! https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/france/030319/l-etat-seme-le-doute-sur-les-liens-entre-chlordecone-et-cancer-au-detriment-des-victimes?onglet=full
Madinina:Island of Flowers
Strolling along the former plantation is very pleasant. With each step you take there will be a wooden panel informing you of each different variety of banana. Species such as the Musa Paradisiaca commonly known as plantain, a variety that is not sweet and can be cooked, boiled or fried. The most common species in grocery markets Cavendish is sweet and very yellow when ripe. A subspecies of Cavendish the Poyo is known as an apple fig is sweet and full of flavors. it is a delight! We have a pink banana with the inside white. These are just some of fifty-five different kinds of bananas. Along the way you will notice different types of flora such as hibiscus, balisiers, bird of paradise, bougainvillea,anthuriums, blood drop lotuses etc. Each flora varying in color and fragility. You will fall in love with the various trees such as the bamboo tree which offers shade when needed. You will discover exotic fruit trees such as the guava, tamarind, or mango trees! Don’t forget the pineapple which grown in the hollow of a plant not a tree!
Martinique is also known by its native american name : Madinina. Madinina means the island of flowers. The proof is in the pudding! The pathway along the museum is covered in lush vegetation as well as numerous other places in Martinique.
The end of our Virtual Visit
The shops, small colorful huts, allow you to taste ripened bananas. You can also taste jams, jellies, candies, and chips. You can also buy these delicacies to keep as a token of a memory keepsake. The banana leaves are often used to make artisanal jewelry some saying the banana leaves protect against negative energy and the “evil eye”. Whether this is true or false we will let you be the judge! Either way, this is a good excuse to wear amazing jewelry. Once you’re done shopping, head over to the restaurant onsite. The Bananeraie restaurant serves creole inspired banana based dishes. Delicacies such as : spicy vegetarian cod fritters, green bananas served with red beans and various meats,banana based pastries, banana cocktails along with a choice of other fruit cocktails served with or without alcohol. Afterwards, once you’re feeling full head to the ocean to feel the breeze on your skin. Depending on the season, you can visit the Tombolo a “tied island’ a strip of white sand mound created by sea currents that is off the shores of Saint Marie. It is a must do, it will make you feel as though you are walking on water.