Kisubi Banana

Ark of taste
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Kisubi bananas are locally classified into two different cultivars, the small type (kisubi omutono) and the bigger type (kisubi omunene). Kisubi plants have small, light yellowish trunks that are 2-3 meters tall. Kisubi generally has smaller, pointed, and straighter leaves than other banana varieties. This is common for both local cultivars (though the small kisubi has slightly smaller, more erect leaves than the big kisubi). The kisubi has been produced in Uganda for centuries.

The kisubi is mostly grown in Masaka and near the Mabira Forest (Central Region), and in eastern Uganda. It is mostly planted along trenches and on stony hills, in groups of 3-4 plants, and used for juice production. The kisubi grows well even on poor soil in arid regions and can survive for up to 30 years if well managed. Kisubi bananas ripen quickly (they are ready for consumption 5 days after harvesting) and have sweet flesh that smells like apple and tastes a little like pineapple. The bunches of this variety grow more slowly than other varieties: Once the flower blooms at the end of the trunk it takes 5 months – as opposed to 3 for other varieties – for the fruit to fully develop.

This plant has a small, slim, whitish stem with a strong bend. The flower pod is small and elongated and produces a bunch with no more than seven clusters. Its leaves are whitish and narrow. The stem is rich in sap. Banana fingers of this variety are short. This variety is often used for juice production. In appearance it looks like the apple banana (ndiizi). It protects other plants in the garden. It is also known as embidde in eastern Uganda. It is highly productive.

Kisubi is sold at local markets and in rural villages, and harvested for communal consumption at events. However, it is highly susceptible to banana bacterial wilt, which has devastated many hectares of the variety in just a few years. There is also an increasing rate of banana hybridization, which has led to the loss of the original variety in many areas. Locally, the fruits are peeled and squeezed to extract the juice, which can be consumed either fresh or fermented to make a mild to strong alcoholic drink called tonto or bwakata. The high-quality juice can be used to produce spirits (waragi, kasese, or mandule), but kisubi is such a scarce variety that it is difficult to obtain a large enough quantity for distillation. Kisubi bananas are only rarely used for food (the mashed up bits of the worst looking bananas are mixed with cassava flour and baking soda or some other leavening agent) and may be sold to people in the village, to a restaurant, or to a few pancake sellers. In many communities, especially during the dry season with food shortages, the unripe kisubi fingers are pealed, sun dried, and ground to make flour, which is mixed with cassava flour to make a dough locally known as obutta. The leaves are also used a lot in traditional cooking techniques like luwombo (meat cooked inside the banana leaves) as well as being the most preferred banana leaf in food steaming since it does not transfer its aroma to the steamed food.

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