Onam 2023: Tracing The History And Origins Of Banana Chips
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The crunchy, salty, cracker-like banana chips are believed to have originated in South India, particularly in the state of Kerala. Since the region has a long history of banana cultivation, and are associated with being a staple in the local diet, chips were traditionally made at home as a way to preserve bananas when they were in excess or about to spoil. Known as ‘upperi’ or ‘kayi varuthathu’ in the local language, the process of making banana chips involves slicing the bananas very thinly, typically using a mandolin or a sharp knife.

Kerala has a rich tradition of using bananas in various dishes – sweet and savoury. The slices are then deep-fried in oil until they turn crispy and golden brown, finished off with a pinch of salt or spices for added flavour. The chips are thinner, crunchier and lighter - with a tinge of brown from the frying, resulting in a savoury and mildly sweet chip. Over time, the popularity of banana chips spread beyond Kerala - where these chips feature as a key salt component of the sadya, to Tamil Nadu as well as neighbouring countries like the Caribbean and Latin America. People started experimenting with different variations, including adding spices like pepper or chili powder to enhance the flavour.

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One of the famous varieties of banana chips hailing from Nagercoil district in Tamil Nadu, are made with a specific variety of bananas known as nendran, as well as sprinkled with turmeric powder and salt, once fried. Geographically speaking, this region, in southernmost tip of Tamil Nadu, is known to have fertile soil, plenty of rainfall and a tropical climate - all of which are favourable conditions for the cultivation of banana crops. Bananas are also an integral part of the culinary traditions in Kanyakumari, making it an ingredient that is tied closely to traditions.

These chips also gained popularity outside of South Asia with the increasing demand for convenience foods and ready-to-eat snacks. This involved mass production, packaging, and distribution of banana chips to wider markets. Manufacturers often innovate by offering flavoured variations, using different types of bananas, or using alternative cooking methods like baking for a healthier option.