How bananas first appeared in Russia  

Russia Beyond (Photo: Tretyakov Gallery; Yulimuli/Getty Images)
We'll tell you where the exotic fruit came from in Russia and why, in Soviet times, bananas were given to the 'front-runners' of production.   

The first attempt at growing bananas in Russia was in the middle of the 18th century. In 1754, a banana seedling was delivered to Count Peter Shuvalov's greenhouse in St. Petersburg from Europe. A year later, the plant had reached two and a half meters and bore several fruits.  

Soon, the plant found its place in the tsar's gardens. Its valuable fruits arrived on the table of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. The nobility tried to follow the example of the reigning persons and also started growing bananas, but not so effectively - the fruits were never seen. In the next 100 years, bananas would remain a curiosity, even for the aristocracy.   

Reproduction of

Records have been preserved about how, in the middle of the 19th century, writer Ivan Goncharov saw an unusual fruit in Madeira during his travels. Having learned that they were bananas, he wanted to try them and was disappointed. He recorded his impressions in his book ‘Frigate Pallada’: "I tried it - I didn't like it: it is bland, partly sweet, but sluggish and cloying, the taste is floury, it looks a bit like both potato and melon, only not as sweet as melon and without flavor or with its own, somehow coarse bouquet. It is rather a vegetable than a fruit and, among fruits, it is a ‘parvenu’ (‘upstart’)."  

Nikitsky Garden, Yalta.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of the 20th century, bananas became available to ordinary citizens of St. Petersburg - they began to be brought in large quantities on steamships with refrigerators from the Americas and Europe. As a consequence, their prices became reasonable and St. Petersburg restaurants began to experiment with bananas - for example, ‘banana punch’ appeared.  

During the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the World Wars of the 20th century, Soviet citizens did not care about overseas bananas, but, after World War II, they, again, grew in popularity and began to be imported from China and Vietnam. Vietnamese bananas came to the USSR in exchange for military supplies and financial aid. They were brought in green and unripe and then allowed to rest so that they turned yellow. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was known to be a great fan of them. Bananas were also given to close officials and advanced workers as a reward for their labor.  

Boys with bananas from Guinea on Potemkin stairs 1961-1964.

By the end of the 1960s, due to the Vietnam War and deteriorating relations with China, banana shipments from Asia stopped. They were replaced under Leonid Brezhnev in the 1970s-1980s by bananas from Guinea and Ecuador. They were not so expensive anymore, but they were still exotic and huge waiting lines appeared in Moscow and St. Petersburg for them.  

Heroes of the movie 'Starik Hottabych' with artificial green bananas. 1956

Before perestroika, imports of exotic fruits were exempted from customs duties, which contributed to even greater price reductions and market saturation. Today, bananas can be bought in any store in Russia.

Bananas for sale at the discount store.

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