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I was reading that the bananas we eat today (Cavendish) weren't particularly popular until the 50s, when the more popular Gros Michel variety was virtually wiped out by a nasty disease. Apparently Gros Michel was much sweeter and had a different flavour and texture.

There are several interesting articles on the subject online, and Amazon lists a couple of books that look interesting. What I'm looking for here is primary sources - things written around the time the transition was taking place, describing people's personal reactions to the new bananas.

By personal reaction, I mean I'm not interested in sales data or whether executives thought people would like them - I want to know whether regular people noticed the change and, if so, what they said about it.

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If there are books already, is there a way to look at what they used as sources and go from there? – MichaelF Feb 13 '12 at 12:48
Quite possibly, but I don't really want to buy the books just to look at the bibliography. And there may be references to this in other odd places - a novel, letter, or magazine article of the time could mention it in passing without being specifically about bananas. I'm hoping someone can point me directly to what I'm looking for. – Rose Ames Feb 13 '12 at 15:38
Why buy when your local library might have them? I don't check much on Amazon (due to personal reasons) but if they don't list the bibliography there then maybe it's online somewhere else. I'm just trying to note, if there are books out there that might have something on a subject, they might list primary sources that are viable it's just a matter of getting to them. – MichaelF Feb 13 '12 at 16:10
This is a really creative and thoughtful question. The first time I saw it I thought "What an absurd question," but now after reading it again I realize that you asked a really specific and unique question. I had a history professor who was obsessed with food and how it affected society, but sadly he is not here. I wish I could help you out. – ihtkwot Mar 1 '12 at 2:03
Are you interested in a specific timeline and region / country? The wiping out of the Gros Michel took 60 years and was final by the 60s. (Some places still have it like Thailand or small plantations in Africa and Latin America). – Gil Oliveira Jul 28 at 12:45

1 Answer 1

Note, in the interest of academic honesty and historical accuracy, I will preface my answer by acknowledging that it constitutes original research and is purely anecdotal, though I believe it is worth sharing because of its relevance to the question:

I can't produce any writings for you, per your question, just a firsthand account: According to my grandmother, EVERYBODY noticed the transition from Gros Michel to Cavendish bananas. She was living in California's San Joaquin Valley at the time, the wife of a fruit farmer, so perhaps she has a more sophisticated taste for exotic fruit than most. But she claims that when the local supermarkets switched to Cavendish, a lot of customers (that were also her neighbors) complained that the new bananas weren't as big or as sweet and flavorful.

First of all, visual appearances: Gros Michel bananas tend to have a shorter, more pronounced curve near the stem and then a much longer, more uniformly slim body than do Cavendish. Overall, according to what my grandmother said, they appear to be the bigger fruit. So perhaps consumers felt they were getting shortchanged when Canvendish first showed up on the shelves, price-per-pound unchanged.

Secondly: Taste and flavor. Have you ever had banana-flavored candy? My grandmother swears that the flavor is inspired by that of Gros Michel bananas, not Cavendish. Apparently, that's actually a myth (though there is a well-founded correlation between the flavorings). Gros Michels did in fact taste much sweeter and had a more pulpy texture than Cavendish. The latter is often described as more bland, the weak taste being further dominated by the Cavendish's relative firmness and fibrous texture.

This is just one person's story, but it hopefully provides some insight into the impressions of the average American consumer during the transition from Gros Michel to Cavendish.

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