Despite its odd appearance the banana is a berry, the fruit of a giant tropical herb.
There are two major types that are usually associated with the species name although they aren't, in fact, separate species. The 'sweet' or eating banana is normally slightly curved in shape with yellow inedible skin and pale beige, smooth, sweet pulp. The other type is the plantain, a green or yellowish-green starchy cooking banana that tastes a little like sweet potato. It is firmer, straighter and more rigid than an eating banana.
Bananas should have a strong, bright colour, and feel reasonably firm and plump. They need to be stored at room temperature (the skin turns black if the fruit is refrigerated), where they will keep for about a week depending on their ripeness when bought. The flesh discolours on contact with air, so peel as near to use as possible.
Plantains will probably have some brown or black areas on the skin, which won't affect their taste.
Bananas cook beautifully: as fritters and in rum and coconut-based desserts; in tea breads, cakes and biscuits; and in savoury dishes such as curries. Plantains are always cooked, by baking whole in their skins - in a moderate oven this will take 45 minutes - or frying in slices or 'chips'. They are also added to Caribbean curries, and cooked and mashed to make a sort of porridge.