Bananas first reached Europe in the early fifteenth century, transported from Guinea in West Africa by Portuguese sailors, though they are believed to have originated in East Asia and Oceania. Known as “banema” in Guinea, bananas have been a part of the human diet even longer than rice and experienced a surge in popularity between 63 and 14 B.C, thanks to the personal physician of Emperor Octavius Augustus. There is even speculation that the name musa, the plant group to which bananas belong, comes from the last name of doctor and acclaimed botanist Antonius Musa.
Spanish missionaries brought the fruit to North America after the civil war, but it wasn’t until the 1880s that bananas really grew in popularity. Coloured red and green rather than the yellow we see today, the bananas were more savoury than sweet and would be known today as plantain. The sweet variety was discovered back in 1836 by a Jamaican plantation owner called Jean Francois Poujot. Having noticed that one of his trees was bearing fruit of an unusual yellow colour, and taking a liking to the sweet taste, he cultivated more of the strain which would eventually become a familiar sight in most homes. When the dessert bananas reached the US, they were considered something of a delicacy and were eaten carefully with a knife and fork.