In search of the Gros Michel, the Cadillac of bananas

The Gros Michel — the Big Mike — used to be the standard commercial banana, until a bug wiped it out in the 1950s. The same thing could happen to the Cavendish variety, since it is also a genetic clone

I am here for the Gros Michel—the OG banana that was the standard across the United States from 1870, when it sold for $2 a bunch in Jersey City, until the late 1950s, when the ruinous fungus Panama disease all but wiped it out.

I am on a quest across New York City for the Gros Michel, the Big Mike, the banana that launched a thousand pratfalls. Online, people speak of it in revered digital tones: “I am absolutely dying to try one,” one banana forum user writes, promising to pay “an arm and a leg” for them. Another claims they are so delicious that regular Cavendish bananas are disgusting by comparison. Today, the banana is virtually gone from the consumer market in the United States—finding it will be at best a challenge, and perhaps impossible.

It wasn’t always the case: The Gros Michel was once everywhere. When America fell in love with the banana, this is the fruit that captured its heart. The alchemist who first produced the banana split used a Gros Michel; the chemist who produced artificial banana flavor allegedly had it in mind as well. When Eddie Cantor sings “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” it is Big Mike he’s singing about.

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