How tropical bananas are grown on Santa Barbara’s Mesa

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You can now pick up locally grown bananas at the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market.

In a greenhouse atop Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood, Damien Raquinio of Golden State Papayas grows more than just what his business name suggests.

“We really wanted to bring a new product to the market, so we decided to fill in all the dead space in our greenhouse with dwarf variety bananas,” said Raquinio.

The term “dwarf” refers to the tree’s height. Since he grows indoors, dwarf varieties work perfectly because they don’t grow over six feet.

Damien Raquinio’s greenhouse in Santa Barbara’s Mesa. (Kathryn Barnes/KCRW)

Most bananas bought in the grocery store are picked green and transported unripe to protect them from bruising and spoilage. Then, they’re ripened by using ethylene gas.

Raquinio picks his bananas when they’re ripe.

“We leave them on the tree until the first hand is yellow, so we already know the whole bunch is mature,” he said. “Everything you’re getting is no more than three days cut from the tree.”

From left to right, peeled and unpeeled: Dwarf Orinoco, Dward Cavendish and Dwarf Mahoi bananas. (Kathryn Barnes/KCRW)

Taste the difference

  • Dwarf Orinoco (left) has a golden yellow peel and a blocky shape. Its known as a “eating out of hand banana,” which makes it great for a snack or dessert. “It’s like custard on the outside, and tangy and firmer in the middle,” said Raquinio.
  • Dwarf Cavendish (center) tastes the most similar to a store bought banana, but smaller and with more tropical, acidic notes.
  • Dwarf Mahoi (right) is a Hawaiian variety that tastes similar to the Dwarf Cavendish, but with deeper flavors.

Raquinio’s next venture? Pineapples.

“We’ve got two varieties we’re testing,” he said. “We’ve already eaten a few and they’re delicious – golden, acidic and sweet.”

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