What is a Cavendish Banana?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Cavendish banana is the most widely-grown banana cultivar. Plantations devoted to this banana can be found in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, and the bulk of bananas on the shelves of Western supermarkets are Cavendish bananas. These fruits are ubiquitous, cheaply available year-round in fresh form.

The Cavendish banana is the most widely grown banana cultivar in the world.
The Cavendish banana is the most widely grown banana cultivar in the world.

These bananas originated in Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam, and they became widely cultivated in the 1950s. The story of the Cavendish is actually a fascinating glimpse into the world of commercial banana cultivation, especially since this is a world that many average consumers know little about.

Cavendish bananas.
Cavendish bananas.

Bananas first became widely popular in the 1800s, when railway companies started establishing plantations of Gros Michel or “Big Michael” bananas along their tracks. These bananas could be easily transported once they were ripe, generating double profits for the railway by allowing the company to charge for passengers and freight, and to transport a costly exotic food on the same train. The price of bananas started to drop, and bananas quickly became a very familiar tropical fruit.

By the 1920s, however, a problem was starting to develop with the Big Michael cultivar; the bananas were susceptible to Panama Disease, a fungus which attacks and kills banana plants. In the 1950s, it was clear that this cultivar was in trouble, and the Cavendish banana was selected to replace it. However, 50 years later, the Cavendish banana also ran into trouble, raising concerns that this cultivar might also become extinct.

Bananas in general are especially susceptible to disease because the plants are clones of each other. Bananas are reproduced by cultivating their corms, as they do not produce seeds, and as a result, all Cavendish bananas around the world are genetically identical. This means that when a disease evolves to attack the Cavendish cultivar, it can potentially impact every Cavendish plant in the world, wiping the cultivar out in a very short period of time.

Biologists have suggested that the vulnerability of the banana is a strong argument for trying to retain genetic diversity for this tropical plant. By breeding additional cultivars with the use of wild stock and encouraging people to buy a range of bananas, biologists hope to keep bananas in supermarkets in the years to come, even if the Cavendish banana ultimately succumbs to disease.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I hear that the Gros Michel banana was tastier and more aromatic than the Cavendish. I also hear it's still cultivated in Thailand!

I really want to one day taste it and compare it with the Cavendish. Maybe I should visit Thailand.


I like to buy bananas while they are still mostly green. I only go to the grocery store once a week, so if I buy a green bunch, they will usually last the whole week without getting overripe.

I like the fact that they can ripen off of the plant. However, I have to be careful about buying bananas with freckles already on them if no green ones are available, because they will be too ripe to eat in just a couple of days.

It is a little harder to peel a green banana than a yellow one, but I like the flavor of a barely ripe banana. It isn't overly sweet, and it has a distinct taste.


Have you ever noticed how quickly the Cavendish banana peel turns dark after you take the banana out of it? It's weird how they start to brown within minutes of being removed.

I used to keep the banana peel in my lunch box after I ate the fruit so that I could discard it at home, but it started stinking up the box. It was hard to get the banana aroma out, so I started throwing the peel away right after I ate the banana.

I usually eat my lunch in the park, and I toss the peel in a trash can near the picnic table. I always make sure that the peel falls in the can and not beside it, because I don't want to be responsible for anyone slipping on the peel and falling!


@orangey03 – It's not a bad idea. My sister has a dwarf Cavendish banana plant in her home, and she says the small bananas taste great.

She keeps it inside until she is sure that the temperature outside won't drop below 50 degrees. She puts it in a sunny spot, whether it's outside in the summer or inside near a window in the winter, and it has been producing bananas happily.


@feruze – I know! I was alarmed to read that all of these bananas could die out together. It's enough to make me want to get a Cavendish banana plant and care for it indoors, making sure that it doesn't get exposed to any sort of disease!

@ysmina-- You don't need to know that because around 99% of all yellow bananas are Cavendish. You are almost definitely buying Cavendish bananas.
I think that Cavendish banana is at great risk and it might be wiped out much like the Gros Michel soon.

I read in a magazine about this. Apparently, Cavendish is immune to the strain of Panama disease that destroyed Gros Michel but the disease has other strains that the Cavendish are not immune to. If one of the strains start to destroy the Cavendish, we might lose almost all of the banana plantations in the world.

It's very scary. Bananas are my favorite fruit and I can't even imagine a produce aisle without bananas.


Are Cavendish bananas in supermarkets labeled as such? How can I know if the bananas I'm buying are Cavendish or a different cultivar?


The Cavendish bananas we get in Portugal from So. or Central Am. almost all have dark specks in the center which seem to multiply and cause the fruit to rot from within. What is the disease that causes this and are the bananas fit to eat?

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