I know I’m not going to win any popularity contests with this statement, because according to the USDA, bananas alone “claim over 50 percent of the volume of fresh fruit imports,” and they are also the No. 1 consumed fruit in the United States.
Bah! I was never one to follow a crowd.
I’m also well aware that bananas are full of vitamin B6, but I can get my B6 fix from salmon or potatoes — foods I actually like — because in my opinion, bananas are rotten to the core.
In truth, I have liked plantains. But only if they’ve been thinly sliced, fried to a crisp and prepared by Chez Henri’s chef Paul O’Connell in Cambridge, Mass.
First, some background.
My lifelong loathing for the yellow fruit was conceived as a simple aversion to their texture that I went on to apply to all things mushy and gooshy: oatmeal, rice pudding, cellulitic flan. So great was my disgust at the feel of banana that I soon turned against the flavor of banana. Or even banana-scented things, because, quite honestly, I learned very quickly as a kid that bananas have the worst B.O. of any fruit.
I didn’t even have to see the bananas my mom packed to know they were there. Their aroma escaped the thick metal of my battered “Star Wars” lunchbox and enveloped my locker in a bruised, yellow cloud. It seeped through the plastic baggies and suffused everything with banana stench. Sandwiches, chips, Oreos. Until I started researching the topic of picky eaters and the lives we lead for my book on that subject, I didn’t know that being highly attuned to banana odor was a protective response from my brain connected to a neurological response known as olfactory adaptation.
Marcia Pelchat, a picky-eating and olfactory scientist at Monell Chemical Sense Center in Philadelphia, explained olfactory adaptation (also referred to as “smell fatigue”) to me: “Basically, the olfactory system is set up to detect relevant stimuli [odors], and often, that means change.” Meaning that when you come upon a smell, your olfactory system checks it out and, after your brain determines that it’s not life threatening — like a gas leak or something burning on the stove — it instructs your nose to stop smelling it.
However, if a change occurs and another smell enters the picture, your olfactory system instant-messages your brain to see whether this new smell is a threat to you. If it is, your brain will make sure you continue smelling it to keep you constantly alert to its presence.