Go Bananas with These 12 Varieties Worth Seeking Out in the PhilippinesAugust 16, 2017
The Philippines is brimming with a massive agricultural landscape, of which one of its most important crops is the banana. Said to be native to Southeast Asia with the Philippines as within its center of origin and diversity, bananas are a staple fruit on many a Filipino’s diets, finding its way to many of our dining tables (and local dishes). Three Musa species are said to be indigenous to our islands: Musa balbasiana Colla (a.k.a. “butuhan”, or seedy), Musa acuminata Colla (a.k.a. “saging maching”, or monkey banana), and Musa textilis Nee—with the first two being the main “ancestors” of what we consider the edible banana fruit today. Over the years, hybrids and polyploids of the two would come to form different cultivars (or cultivated varieties) of bananas in the country. And not only is the Philippines the second largest exporter of the fruit today; about a hundred different varieties—both wild and cultivated—have been identified in the country.
By no means is this meant to be a definitive, all-encompassing list, and instead a compilation of the varieties we’ve come across along with our own notes. Our research was admittedly made difficult by the fact that similar bananas may go by different names in different places (note that we went with the banana’s names as they were presented to us upon purchase), coupled with the fact that none of us are any of us of an agricultural background. Still, natural produce never fails to fascinate us, and exploring the different varieties of the said species is a great way to pay tribute to the many treasures in our local soil. How many of these have you tried?
Also known as: Mapang (Misamis Occidental), Pisang Berangan (Malaysia), Pisang Barangan (Indonesia), Khuai Hom Maew (Thailand)
Lakatan appears to be the most common cultivar you’ll find in Manila, and is grown all over the country. It has a bright, highly saturated yellow hue on its just-thick-enough peel with an easy-to-separate, relatively-flavorful inner lining the author enjoys gnawing on. Its flesh, too, takes on a distinct yellow-to-orange color (pointing to its high levels of Vitamin A), and carries a balanced taste that has just the right amounts of sweet, slightly tangy, and custardy. Texture-wise it is moist but provides a substantial bite—one that is more moist and denser than Cavendish yet less chewy than Saba, and yields a creaminess when bitten. If you’re into freezing bananas for smoothies or nice cream, these make for an especially sludgy, dense texture (think Wendy’s Frosty as opposed to Dairy Queen’s whippier soft-serve) when blended.
Also known as: Tundan (Cebu), Turdan (Tagalog), Cantong (Misamis Oriental), Pisang Rastali (Malaysia), Pisang Raja (Indonesia), Kluai Nam (Thailand), Chuoi Goong (Vietnam), Silk Fig (West Indies)
Also very common around Manila (and said to be the most common of the dessert varieties all around the Philippines), Latundan is said to have been introduced from India by a French clergyman, Letondal. Compared to Lakatan it takes on a fatter form and pointier shape toward the end. It has a paler-hued, thinner peel (with barely any inner lining to be found), as well as paler (almost white) flesh—within which it carries a tangier, more “tropical” flavor and a less-dense, relatively fluffier texture (think mashed potatoes) that also becomes more slippery and ultra-creamery as you chew.
Also known as: Dippig (Ilocos), Pisang Kepok (Indonesia), Pisang Nipah (Malaysia), Kluai Hin (Thailand)
Note: Saba refers to both a sub-group, as well as a distinct cultivar within that sub-group that goes by the same name.
Likely due to its wide variety of uses in Philippine cuisine (you’ll find it in a number of Filipino dishes, e.g. pochero or banana cue, and products like banana ketchup; their “hearts”, too, can be cooked into dishes like burgers or sisig), Saba is said to be the “most important cultivar” of all. This fatter and stubbier banana is of the ‘cooking’ sort, with a firmer, generally less- (but still slightly-) sweet character compared to other dessert bananas. Subjecting it to heat gets it satisfyingly starchy, not unlike a chewier potato—although depending on the stage of ripeness pre-cooking, it can be sweet and tangy as well, especially toward the center. But Saba can also be taken raw when very ripe—it has a sweet, tangy, aromatic flavor and moist, sticky interior while retaining its meaty, leathery chewiness on the outside.
We also had the opportunity to try what is called the Super Giant Saba (distinct from yet another large variety we weren’t able to get our hands on, but is simply called the Giant Saba), which—true to its moniker, is indeed ginormous, coming in at around eight inches long and a significant weight per individual piece of fruit (!). With a strong jackfruit-like aroma that permeated the room we had kept it in, its flesh comes very sweet and tangy, ultra-creamy and buttery (seemingly less rubbery than regular Saba, though it may just be the size) and with a curiously pink hue. Though we were unable to get sufficient information, Che Abrigo of Good Food Community shares that some have speculated it to be what is called the “Datu” variety from Quezon.
Also known as: Cariñosa, Cuarenta Dias, Arnibal (Negros Occidental), Monkoy (Negros Oriental), Surat-sut (Bicol), Lungsuranon (Surigao), Pisang Empat Pulu Hari (Malaysia), Pisang Lampung (Indonesia)
Smaller in scale compared to other cultivars (we’ve encountered some that were literally smaller than our thumbs), Señorita can also occasionally be found in a few supermarkets in the Metro. It is similar to Lakatan in many ways, with a yellow-orange color on the peel (Senorita’s is just thinner, with almost no gnaw-able inner lining) and the flesh; a firm but creamy texture (albeit a tad more buttery); and sweet and aromatic flavor (but much less tangy and more on the custard-y side, with a peculiar taste a member of the team describes as “grassy”).
Note: Cavendish refers to a distinct sub-group, of which the cultivars Williams and Grand Naine are available in the country. We were unfortunately unable to confirm which of the two cultivars the particular bananas we had actually are pieces of (although our observations of its physical characteristics make us suspect it’s the latter); either way, we refer to how they are colloquially named, which is just “cavendish”.
Cavendish is the most widely grown and traded banana in the world, following in the footsteps of the old Latin American variety Gros Michel (which previously held the title of the world’s most popular before tragically being wiped out) due to their supposed similarity—physically, anyway. The Cavendish as we know it tends to be of a similar overall shape as Lakatan, but bigger, with a less saturated-yellow hue on its flesh and skin (which develops freckle-like spots, as it ripens, and has a less-flavorful inner lining). It’s the “cleanest”-looking when at the proper ripeness, but is generally blander than all other varieties on this list (we’ll be honest—compared to the others, it sucks). Cavendish does, however, get sufficiently sweet to be pleasant to eat once ripe and spotty on the outside—be patient in letting it ripen. Its relatively lighter, fluffier texture (also comparable to mashed potatoes, albeit in a less creamy sense compared to Latundan) makes for a less toothsome bite, but makes it great for freezing as the lightness means it is easier to blend (it makes for a relatively looser, slushie-like mix compared to Lakatan) and easier to melt in the mouth unlike other varieties that can feel too dense when frozen.
Also known as: Katali, Botolan (Palawan), Pisang Awak (Malaysia, Indonesia), Kluai Namwa Luang (Thailand)
Common in the Southern Tagalog region, Lagkitan can be had raw or cooked. Pale yellow somewhat like Saba but with a shape similar to Latundan (that becomes rounded around the stem but pointy over the tip), Lagkitan tastes like a cross between the two, carrying the former’s relative firmness and the latter’s thin peel; sweet and tangy taste (albeit with more of a bubblegum-y undertone that rounds it out, we notice); and sticky, slippery texture (albeit less starchier than Latundan). Occasionally you may find the presence of seeds in the banana centers.
We were unable to find sufficient information as to whether Bulkan is of its own distinct cultivar, or one and the same as Lagkitan with variations that may be due to the difference in terroir. In any case, Bulkan shares many similarities with Lagkitan—a sweet, tangy, “bubblegum-y” flavor, smooth and waxy-creamy texture, and the occasional presence of seeds—save for what seems to be a slightly more vivid yellow peel color as it ripens, and more rounded overall shape especially toward the tip (whereas Lagkitan tends to be narrower and pointier).
Also known as: Raines na pula, Gloria (Tagalog), Tadiao Tumbaga (Sulu), Tinumbaga (Surigao)
This red-skinned variety is uncommon in the Metro, but a more common sight in areas such as Mindoro and Baguio (as has been reported to us). Larger overall, Morado can take a longer time to ripen compared to others. Past its thick red peel (we had to use a knife to pry ours open) which takes on a more orange- or yellowish tinge as it ripens, Morado is pale-yellow on the inside, with a texture similar to Lakatan or Latundan but seemingly a tad firmer. Taste-wise, we noticed it to be relatively subdued in sweetness—but it does carry a subtle pineapple-y note amidst its more rounded, creamy sweetness (somewhat similar to Senorita, with the “grassiness” turned just a notch down).
Also known as: Binendito, Domino (Cebuano), Oremos (Cagayan Valley), Ripping, Praying Hands (Florida), Uht Kapakap (Pohnpei)
Inabaniko resembles a closed human fist with its clusters of tightly packed fingers. On the inside it is more or less similar to Saba with a firm, chewy, “meaty” flesh and tangy taste—though seemingly with a more rustic, “grassy” quality to it. (Other sources mention the presence of a “vanilla flavor” we unfortunately were unable to detect.) We tried boiling a piece at the just the right stage of ripeness to compare it with a similar-sized, similar-ripeness stage piece of saba and noticed Inabaniko to take on a more potato-like, starchy, less-sweet character.
Also known as: Buñguran (Bicol), Buluñgan (Cebu), Balañgon (Negros Occidental and Iloilo), Lacatan (Central America—not to be confused with what we consider Lakatan), Pisang Masak Hijau (Malaysia)
Bungulan starts green and stays green, even when ripe (although it does get slightly more yellowish around the tips). The texture is more or less similar to Lakatan, as is the taste, offering a great balance of sweetness, tanginess (perhaps a touch less, but it’s still there!), and creaminess—though we could almost swear it carries a more melon-like, bubblegum-y note. Multiple sources cite its ability to make for great banana cakes—a claim we were unable to test to compare with other varieties, but we’ll take their word for it anyway.
We were unable to get sufficient information on this variety from just googling the name with which it was presented to us. From its physical characteristics however, we highly suspect this to in fact be of the Pelipia cultivar, which is common in Mindanao.
Laugh if you must—but we’re convinced Utongan gets its name from how its tips closely resemble ‘utong’, or nipples. (Just saying.) Though similar in form to Saba, Utongan’s inner flesh better resembles a cross between Saba and Lakatan—still on the firm end but less rubbery than the former, with the creaminess of the latter when at the right stage of ripeness. Taken raw when ripe, it has a most distinct flavor that is sweet, lush, and supremely tangy, with a distinct pineapple-like note we can’t get enough of. Our experiments with cooking it, however, only renders it bland and full of tannins that feel rough on the tongue.
Also known as: Tondoc (Tagalog), Pisang Byar (Indonesia), Pisang Tanduk (Malaysia), Kluai Klai (Southern Thailand)
Tindok is described to be the most popular plantain in the Philippines, and comes as huge, long pieces with pointy, nipple-like ends. We tried cooking them while green, during which they take on a dense potato-like consistency with very tight fibers and carry a slight tang and sweetness behind its vegetal taste. When ripe and raw, it takes on a waxy texture and deep orange hue again similar to Lakatan, just more dense that it actually feels chewy; as well as a sweet, tangy flavor that retains a hint of the vegetal note it carries when green—think a cross between Lakatan and Señorita.
Banana Varieties (2013), Growables.org
Farmers’ Handbook on Introduced and Local Banana Cultivars in the Philippines (2008) by F.S. dela Cruz Jr., L.S. Gueco, O.P. Damasco, V.C. Huelgas, F.M. dela Cueva, T.O. Dizon, M.L.J. Sison, I.G. Banasihan, V.O. Sinohin, A.B. Molina Jr.
Wild and cultivated bananas of the Philippines (2002) by Ramon Valmayor, Rene Rafael C. Espino, and Orlando C. Pascua.
Special thanks to Amy Besa of Purple Yam, the the Bureau of Plant Industry’s HVDCP Central Office and Berna Puyat of the Department of Agriculture, and Che Abrigo and Charlene Tan of Good Food Community for their generous help and insights.