If you’ve ever wanted to eat banana peel, Japan is the place for you.
People from all over the country are visiting a department store that sells an unusual version of the fruit. It looks just like any other banana, but it’s supposed to be softer and sweeter — and its peel is edible.
In Japanese, it’s being described as “mongee” — the “super” banana.
Even though they cost around $6 each, the special bananas have had no trouble attracting customers to the one place in the country where they’re sold, the Tenmaya store in the southwestern city of Okayama. The company that grows them told CNN it’s ramping up production to meet rising demand.
Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in Japan. The country has long relied on imports from places like the Philippines, where the climate is better suited to growing the fruit.
But D&T Farm, the company behind the super bananas, is hoping to change that with an agricultural method it calls “freeze-thaw awakening.”
Bananas usually grow in temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). But D&T Farm says it has found a way to cultivate them at far cooler temperatures inside a special greenhouse, says CEO Tetsuya Tanaka.
The process, which involves initially freezing the bananas’ cells, makes the skin edible and even nutritious, D&T says. Its researchers claim it also allows them to grow other tropical fruits, such as papayas and pineapples.
So how does the super banana taste? A post by Tokyo-based website SoraNews24 describes the inside of the fruit as having a tropical, “almost pineapple-like” flavor. But the peel apparently lacks any specific taste.
Tanaka says the idea for the special fruit came from a wealthy uncle who loved bananas so much, he wanted to find a way to grow them domestically.
“Japan imports a million tons of bananas annually, but only makes less than 1% of its consumption,” Tanaka said. “If bananas are produced locally, it will energize Japan’s farming.”
Finding a solution wasn’t easy. According to Tanaka, his uncle spent 40 years and the equivalent of roughly $4.6 million in savings on the project.
Tanaka says the company’s freezing formula could someday help address food shortages in the world by enabling farming in places known for cold, inhospitable temperatures like Siberia.
Commercially, D&T’s efforts may be starting to pay off.
The buzz among customers has led the farm to increase its production goals at least tenfold for the coming year, with the aim of expanding to bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka, Tanaka said.
His company currently supplies about 30 pounds of bananas a week to the department store in nearby Okayama.
It remains to be seen how widely it will catch on. But Japan is known for its love of quirky foods and unusual flavors.
Consumers there have long treasured reinvented fruits that can fetch astonishing prices, including square watermelons and giant grapes.