plátano de bolsaOne of the most astonishing discoveries Northerners make in Mexican mercados is that there is a veritable rainbow of types of banana. The bananas we know in the produce departments of our own supermarkets represent just one variety of many, and it's a rather bland, uninspiring variety. At the right is one often called the plátano de bolsa. It's about as long as the typical North American supermarket banana (note the key for size), but much thicker, and angular. Its pulp is slightly pulpy. Mexicans regard this one as especially good for roasting in the embers of a campfire. The peeling gets a little blackened, the banana sizzles a bit, but then the hot banana is delicious.

Four kinds of mercado bananaAt the left, surrounding the 6-inch/14-cm ruler, at top left in the picture, the small bananas are purple ones called morados. Below them, the still smaller ones are yellow dominitos. The large banana immediately to the ruler's right is the plátano macho, and the angular, thick banana at the far right is our plátano de bolsa.

banana-tree rootstock (corms)The multitude of banana varieties have all developed from a rather puny wild stock originally found in India, known to science as Musa paradisiaca, of the Banana Family. Over the centuries, mankind's genetic manipulation of the banana plant has been so far-ranging that cultivated banana plants produce fruits -- bananas -- that contain no seeds.

The next time you bite into a banana, notice the tiny, dark specks toward the fruit's center. These are aborted ovules, which would have become seeds if the plant's genes weren't so screwed up by humans. Having no seeds, cultivated banana plants must be propagated by detaching and planting the corms arising at the bases of mature trees. Such corms are pictured on sale in a mercado, at the left.

Names for the various banana races change from region to region in Mexico. Here is a list of some of the best-known varieties found in mercados, using names popular in central Mexico: