How are bananas from the Canary Islands different from those of other countries?

Banana plantations in the Canary Islands have an average area of one hectare.

The banana from the Canary Islands differs from bananas from other countries because of its flavour and texture, two elements that come from a unique way of producing this fruit, recognised in the European Union (EU) as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

The Canarian banana, of the Cavendish variety, has an elongated, slightly curved shape, white flesh and a smooth yellow skin, with its characteristic black spots, which peels off easily. Its taste is sweeter, its texture is less floury and its size is smaller than the banana from tropical areas due to the different ripening times and cutting points.

In the Canary Islands, banana combs need more time to develop, around six months compared to three months for bananas, and the fruit only takes two days to reach the Iberian peninsula by ship, while those from third countries have to be cut a month before entering the market due to transport.

Compared to the large farms in Latin American countries, the Canary Island plantations have an average surface area of one hectare due to the orography of the terrain, so it is difficult to maintain homogeneity and the work has to be done by hand.

Manual labour

The flowers are removed from the plant one by one with a knife, without scratching the fruit, in what is known as deflowering, an artisanal process carried out with mastery by the growers.

When they cut the flower, for example, a few drops of latex fall on it, and when it heals, this prevents fungus from entering, something that is not necessary in America because they fumigate directly from the air.

Canary Island producers must carry out integrated pest management, a principle that is still not applied to the production of foodstuffs exported by third countries to the European Union, which can use up to 60 active ingredients, three times more than in the Canaries, and many of their pesticides are banned in the EU.

On the El Magarzal farm in the municipality of Los Realejos (Tenerife), its manager Juan Pérez moves like a fish in water with his knife in his waist. He uses a barreta to weed, i.e. to remove the offspring or plants that are not required for the crop, selecting only the best ones.

Pérez has covered some combs with perforated bags that act as a screen to keep out insects, serve as a microclimate and help the fruit to fatten; and from them fall coloured ribbons that mark the passing of the months before cutting time.

“Like any job, you have to like it. You have to be always investigating and somehow recovering the ancient wisdom, observing a lot. The plant is like a pet that, if you pamper it a lot, in a year it will give you very good results”, Pérez told Efeagro.

Canarian banana: a unique product

Each comb, which produces around 40 kilos, usually has around 14 hands or rows of bananas, a number that in Latin America is even reduced so that the banana is larger.

Once the bananas have been extracted from the Canary Islands, they are placed in ripening chambers and ethylene, a substance produced by all of them, is added so that they ripen at the same time and can arrive more or less homogeneously at supermarkets.

In 2022, some 350,000 tonnes of bananas were produced in the Canary Islands, half of which came from Tenerife, followed by Gran Canaria (26%) and La Palma (22%).

More than 7,300 farmers are responsible for its production on more than 8,600 hectares, generating more than 12,000 full-time jobs, and almost a hundred operators carry out the packaging, apart from the ripening centres located on the islands and the mainland.

Unlike the denomination of origin, the Canary Island banana is a PGI because this quality seal does allow for a stage outside the place of origin, in this case ripening.

Consumers can recognise the product by the presence of black specks on the skin, which appear due to oxidation during ripening and have become a sign of identity.

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