Banana is the most economically important fruit in the Philippines in terms of areas planted and tonnes harvested.
There are dozens of banana cultivars across the country, but only a few of them reach the markets in highly urbanized areas, including Dasmariñas City in the Province of Cavite where we sometimes go to buy fruits and vegetables in bulk.
During our most recent trip there, my mother and I made a stop at the Market Mall, a five-story building (2 basement, ground, and 2 upper levels) nestled in the Kadiwa market district, where almost anything can be bought at very low prices (if you have the time and the adventurous spirit to visit).
The uppermost level is where truckloads of fruits and vegetables are delivered, hence the moniker “bagsakan”, which literally means a place for dropping things.
While helping my mom carry stuff she bought, I tried familiarizing myself with the banana varieties that were available that day. I apologize for the low quality of the photos that accompany this post, as I was shooting using a cheap camera phone while my arms were unsteadied by the bags I carried.
Random Trivia: A hand of banana is “piling” in Tagalog, while the entire cluster with several hands is “buwig”.
I identified five varieties of bananas on that day at the market, and here is my review of each of them. The descriptions I provide are based on the varieties’ characteristics when they are very ripe. So even though I rate Latundan lower on the sweetness scale than Lakatan, a less ripe fruit of the latter may be less sweet than a more ripe one of the former.
External appearance: Probably my favorite variety, it has slightly angular, medium to large-sized fruits. Yellow-orange skin is relatively thick and does not crack when ripe.
Taste and texture: Quite an aromatic variety, Lakatan’s flesh is of a light orange color, and is firm even when a bit overripe. It is usually eaten raw and is also the one popularly used in banana shakes. Sweetness level: 5/5.
External appearance: Arguably the most popular cultivar, the Latundan’s fruits are small to medium-sized, and appear more rounded unlike the angular Lakatan. Its skin is bright yellow and very thin, and cracks open when very ripe.
Taste and texture: The white flesh is soft, becoming almost squishy when overripe. Not as aromatic as Lakatan. Mostly consumed raw. Sweetness level: 4.5/5.
External appearance: In most aspects superficially similar to Latundan, but is much smaller, hence the name. The fruits break off from the stem very easily.
Taste and texture: Surpasses Lakatan in being aromatic, but has a similar color and texture, if a bit softer. Sweetness level: 5/5.
External appearance: Angular fruits are short but wide, giving them a stouter look. Skin is a dull yellow and very thick.
Taste and texture: The cream colored flesh is not aromatic and is firm and very starchy, making it ideal for cooking. Can also be eaten raw when ripe, although it is best when fried or boiled. Sweetness level: 3.5/5.
External appearance: Relatively unpopular until recently, this medium-sized fruit can be easily mistaken for Latundan due to the similar yellow skin, which however appears duller than the latter. It has a plumper and more angular appearance too, and the skin is thicker.
Taste and texture: White flesh can be described as being a mix between Latundan and Saba. More starchy and firmer than Latundan, but softer and sweeter than Saba. Tastes good either raw or cooked. Sweetness level: 4/5.
These are only a few of the several varieties of bananas you can find in Philippine markets. If you know of other varieties in your area, I’d be delighted to hear about them!