Holy Bananas: Your Favorite Fruit May Not Be Vegan Anymore

First the good news: You know those brown-spotted, rotting bananas on your kitchen counter that you swear you’ll make banana bread with? You may not have to deal with them anymore. Now the bad news: Those very same bananas may not be the vegan fruit you thought they were once you find out what’s on them.

Yesterday, scientists at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society revealed a new spray-on coating that could delay the ripening of bananas at home, in restaurants and in grocery stores. All of which sounds good at first, until you find out what’s in that “spray.”

The banana coating is made from chitosan, a substance derived from shrimp and crab shells. It works by killing bacteria that causes certain produce to rot. After they are picked, the banana’s pulp releases a chemical that boosts respiration, which then converts into the sugars that cause them to ripen so we can eat them. But, as that respiration continues, bananas become unpleasantly sweet and mushy if you don’t eat them within a couple of days.

The study’s leader, Xihong Li, said this can extend a banana’s life for nearly two weeks:

We found that by spraying green bananas with a chitosan aerogel, we can keep bananas fresh for up to 12 days. Once bananas begin to mature, they quickly become yellow and soft, and then they rot. We have developed a way to keep bananas green for a longer time and inhibit the rapid ripening that occurs. Such a coating could be used at home by consumers, in supermarkets or during shipment of bananas.

The chitosan spray may be working on rotting bananas, but it’s not working for vegans. Because it’s made with fish parts–shrimp and crab shells, that goes against what vegans eat.

So now the question is: Will grocery stores and other food outlets alert consumers if bananas have been sprayed with chitosan? Because, even for people who aren’t vegans, we all deserve to know what is on our food. I, for one, try to eat as organic as possible and don’t want to eat anything that’s been sprayed with chemicals–even if it means saving my bananas for another week or so.

What about you?


Photo: shutterstock.com

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    • Melissa T-G

      I doubt we’ll be told. Even today, we’re not told the contents of any wax that may be on our vegetables and fruits, so I don’t think this will be any different. Our choices seem to be: buy organic, or bury head in sand.

    • Nancy

      It’s been used in agriculture, medicine, water filtration, the making of beer and wine a lot, already. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chitosan

    • newhope360 editor
    • BT

      Um, it’s a little wider than vegans, I’m afraid. Vegetarians don’t eat seafood (shrimp and crab are not fish!) parts either, and there are *many* more vegetarians than vegans…

    • Winnipeg

      what about people with allergies to shellfish?

      • Denise

        Yes like me!!! (Clutches EPI to chest)

      • angie

        Exactly! How can that even be legal? Shellfish is such a common allergy.

    • IMustBreakU

      Who cares, unless you like eating the peel you twits…

      • heather

        that’s not the point. and we are not twits.

      • Anna

        It’s the principle! We don’t eat the skin, but if we buy them, we’re still supporting the spray. Who’s a twit now?

      • heaven

        i think it effects the banana. it may go thru the peel. but i hope thats not true. love bananas

    • heather

      vegan here… and i like my bananas normal. they don’t go bad in my house… they get eaten before that! i’ll stick with organic.

    • Cathy

      Wait a second- there’s a bigger issue here. Where do most bananas grow? In tropical climates. How many miles did your banana travel before it landed in your kitchen? If we’re really concerned about our health and the health of the planet- we wouldn’t be buying food from thousands of miles away…

      • Serena

        Using that logic, when it’s winter we should starve because it’s too cold to grow fresh produce here locally and it has to be flown from warmer climates. Eating locally is a great idea if you live in a tropical climate with a diversity of plants and animals; for those of us who don’t, it’s not an option.

      • Lizzie Maitland

        I’m not vegan, allergic to shellfish nor do I eat bananas so this doesn’t really affect me but just in response to Serena’s comment- where do you live? Alaska? Antarctica? You may not be able to grow anything during the winter but that is where preserving, freezing and canning in the summer (plentiful) months came in. Just think that if people lived there before they invented electricity or planes, you can survive perfectly well without incurring thousands and thousands of food miles. You just need to plan for the winter when local food is available!

      • Cathy

        I agree with Lizzie- people have been surviving for tens of thousands of years without bananas, and without shipping food from all over the world.

    • J

      Um, What about the Shellfish Allergy!???

    • J

      Um, What about the Shellfish Allergy!???

    • heaven

      well i do love bananas but if they use that stupid thing on them i guess no more bananas. hopefully not all stores will be useing them

    • Debra

      This is a short-term problem since bananas, as we know them, are disappearing. Right now, Panama Disease is wiping out banana plantations all over the world. It’s only a matter of time until Panama Disease makes it’s way to the banana plantations in South and Central America (where most of US bananas are grown). There is no way to stop or prevent this disease. This is the second time the disease has desimated bananas. It wiped out the previous consumer favorite, Gros Michel, in the in the early 20th Century (“Yes, We Have no Bananas” was written in 1923 at the time bananas were becoming more scarce). A genetically altered (yes, we’re eating genetically altered foods!) was discovered that was resistant to Panama Disease and we have enjoyed the Cavendish banana ever since. Let’s hope the banana research labs are able to find a suitable replacement for the Cavendish before it’s too late.

    • Kate

      This is SCARY news! I have an anaphylactic allergic reaction if I touch/eat and Seafood! And now they’re going to potentially be spraying bananas with this crap?! This simply can’t happen! I’m no the only one who reacts this way.

      • Erin

        This is really scary. I also have an allergy to shellfish and eat bananas on a daily basis. Shellfish is one of the FDA listed “Top 8″ allergens that needs to be listed on labels. Will banana companies need to put this information on the stickers? Scary!

    • Comma

      I’m allergic to shrimps and crabs and I definitely want to be informed whether my bananas are sprayed or not!

    • Auraclear

      That is gross and dangerous to people with allergies. Also it is against a lot of ethical beliefs.

    • Cheryl

      My first reaction also was that there are plenty of people with shell fish allergies and this could be of major concern for them.

    • jacinda

      Just another reason to buy organic!

    • Andrew

      To those concerned about allergies, please research rather than assume.

      From :
      Chitins and chitosans as immunoadjuvants and non-allergenic drug carriers.
      Mar Drugs. 2010. University of Ancona, Ancona, Italy.

      “Due to the fact that some individuals are allergic to crustaceans, the presumed relationship between allergy and the presence of chitin in crustaceans has been investigated. There is quite a large body of knowledge today on the use of chitosans as biomaterials, and more specifically as drug carriers for a variety of applications: the delivery routes being the same as those adopted for the immunological studies. Said articles, that devote attention to the safety and biocompatibility aspects, never reported intolerance or allergy in individuals and animals, even when the quantities of chitosan used in single experiments were quite large. Therefore, it is concluded that crab, shrimp, prawn and lobster chitins, as well as chitosans of all grades, once purified, should not be considered as “crustacean derivatives”, because the isolation procedures have removed proteins, fats and other contaminants to such an extent as to allow them to be classified as chemicals regardless of their origin.”

      NB the last paragraph:

      crab, shrimp, prawn and lobster chitins, as well as chitosans of all grades, once purified, should not be considered as “crustacean derivatives”, because the isolation procedures have removed proteins, fats and other contaminants to such an extent as to allow them to be classified as chemicals regardless of their origin.

    • BZ

      If you can’t eat them fast enough, put some in the frig – even if the peel turns black, the
      banana is still good. And if you can’t eat those fast enough, peel, bag & freeze them for smoothies.
      If this is allowed w/o labeling, I won’t buy them.