Banana Bible: 12 Banana Types in the Philippines

The Philippines is brimming with a massive agricultural landscape, of which one of its most important crops is the banana. It is said to be native to Southeast Asia with the Philippines as within its center of origin and diversity.

Bananas are a staple fruit in the Filipino diet, finding their 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. The first two are 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. Instead, it is a compilation of the varieties we’ve come across along with our own notes. Our research was admittedly made difficult with no agricultural background, and 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.)

Still, natural produce never fails to fascinate us. And exploring different local bananas is a great way to pay tribute to the many treasures in our local soil.

How many of these bananas have you tried?

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Lakatan

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. Its flesh has a distinct yellow-to-orange color, pointing to high levels of Vitamin A.

Flavor: Very balanced. Just the right amounts of sweet, slightly tangy, and custardy.

Texture: Moist but with a substantial bite; more moist and dense than Cavendish but less chewy than Saba. Creamy when bitten into. If you’re into freezing bananas for smoothies, Lakatan bananas make for an especially dense texture (think Wendy’s Frosty) when blended.

Also known as: Mapang (Misamis Occidental), Pisang Berangan (Malaysia), Pisang Barangan (Indonesia), Khuai Hom Maew (Thailand)

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Latundan

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, Latundan takes on a fatter form and pointier shape toward the end. Its peel is thin, with barely any inner lining to be found, and reveals a pale, borderline-white flesh.

Flavor: Tangier and more "tropical"-tasting compared to Lakatan.

Texture: Less dense and relatively fluffier—think mashed potatoes—becoming more slippery and ultra-creamy with every chew.

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)

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Saba

Likely due to its wide variety of uses in Philippine cuisine, Saba is said to be the “most important cultivar” of all. This fatter and stubbier banana is of the ‘cooking’ sort. 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.

Flavor: Less sweet than other dessert bananas, but depending on the stage of ripeness pre-cooking, it can be sweet and tangy as well. Sweet, tangy, and aromatic when ripe.

Texture: Moist, sticky interior with a meaty, leathery chewiness on the outside. Subjecting it to heat gets it satisfyingly starchy, like a chewier potato.

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.

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We also had the opportunity to try what is called the Super Giant Saba. (It’s distinct from yet another large variety we weren’t able to get our hands on: the Giant Saba.)

True to its moniker, it’s indeed ginormous. It comes 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, its flesh comes very sweet and tangy, ultra-creamy and buttery, and with a curiously pink hue. It’s seemingly less rubbery than regular Saba, though it may just be the size.

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.

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Señorita

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; it comes with a yellow-orange color on the peel with no inner lining.

Flavor: Sweet and aromatic; less tangy and more on the custard-y side, with a peculiar "grassy" taste.

Texture: Firm but creamy; a bit buttery.

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Cavendish

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. It has a less saturated-yellow hue on its flesh and skin. It develops freckle-like spots, as it ripens, and has a less-flavorful inner lining. It’s the “cleanest”-looking when at the proper ripeness.

Flavor: We’ll be honest: Compared to the others, it sucks. Blander than all other varieties on this list. It does, however, get sufficiently sweet and pleasant to eat once ripe and spotty on the outside. Be patient in letting it ripen!

Texture: Less toothsome, with a relatively lighter, fluffier texture. Also comparable to mashed potatoes, albeit in a less creamy sense compared to Latundan. Great for freezing as the lightness means it is easier to blend, making for a relatively looser, slushie-like mix compared to Lakatan.

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Lagkitan

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. You may occasionally find seeds in the banana centers.

Flavor: Sweet and tangy taste, with more of a bubblegum-y undertone that rounds it out.

Texture: Sticky, slippery texture that's less starchier than Latundan.

Also known as: Katali, Botolan (Palawan), Pisang Awak (Malaysia, Indonesia), Kluai Namwa Luang (Thailand)

Bulkan

We were unable to find sufficient information as to whether Bulkan is of its own distinct cultivar. Or if it’s 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, save for what seems to be a slightly more vivid yellow peel color as it ripens. It also has a more rounded overall shape especially toward the tip (whereas Lagkitan tends to be narrower and pointier).

Flavor: Sweet, tangy, “bubblegum-y” flavor.

Texture: Smooth, waxy-creamy. Occasional presence of seeds.

Morado

This red-skinned variety is uncommon in the Metro. But you’ll find it more commonly 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-yellowish tinge as it ripens, Morado is pale-yellow on the inside.

Flavor: Subdued in sweetness and grassiness. Subtle pinapple-y notes.

Texture: Firmer but similar to Lakatan and Latundan.

Also known as: Raines na pula, Gloria (Tagalog), Tadiao Tumbaga (Sulu), Tinumbaga (Surigao)

Inabaniko

Inabaniko resembles a closed human fist with its clusters of tightly packed fingers.

Flavor: Tangy like Saba, with a more rustic, grassy quality. Other sources mention the presence of a “vanilla flavor” we unfortunately were unable to detect.

Texture: Similar to Saba's firm, chewy, “meaty” flesh. We tried boiling a just-ripe piece to compare it with a similar-sized, similar-ripeness piece of Saba. We noticed Inabaniko had a more potato-like, starchy, less-sweet character.

Also known as: Binendito, Domino (Cebuano), Oremos (Cagayan Valley), Ripping, Praying Hands (Florida), Uht Kapakap (Pohnpei)

Bungulan

Bungulan starts green and stays green, even when ripe. (Although it does get slightly more yellowish around the tips.) 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.

Flavor: Similar to Lakatan—great balance of seetness, tanginess, and creaminess. Though we could almost swear it carries a more melon-like, bubblegum-y note.

Texture: Similar to Lakatan.

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)

Utungan

We couldn’t 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.) Similar in form to Saba.

Flavor: 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.

Texture: Like 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.

Tindok

Tindok is described to be the most popular plantain in the Philippines. It comes as huge, long pieces with pointy, nipple-like ends.

Flavor: Imagine a cross between Lakatan and Señorita. Has a sweet, tangy flavor that retains a hint of the vegetal note it carries when green. Tastes vegetal when cooked, with just a slight tang and sweetness.

Texture: Similar to Lakatan, just more dense that it actually feels chewy. When ripe and raw, it takes on a waxy texture and deep orange hue. Cooked while green, it has a dense, potato-like consistency with very tight fibers.

Also known as: Tondoc (Tagalog), Pisang Byar (Indonesia), Pisang Tanduk (Malaysia), Kluai Klai (Southern Thailand)

References:

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.

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