Want to Send a Message? Try Writing It On a Banana

Why you should put down the paper and pick up a peel the next time you need to get a point across.

By Jessie Schiewe

You’re never too old to pull a classic banana message prank on a friend. (  monstersforsale   )

You’re never too old to pull a classic banana message prank on a friend. (monstersforsale)

As a kid, if I wanted to send someone a secret message, I had two options: write it in invisible ink (a.k.a. lemon juice) or pen it in “uppy duppy” — a secret language that I invented with my friends.

Well, it turns out there was a third option I could have used that would have been much easier: writing on bananas.

Using a toothpick or finger nail, you puncture notes or designs into the skin of the peel that, with time, will slowly darken and become more visible.

People have likely known about this simple trick for centuries, but nowadays it’s generally mothers with young children keeping the tradition alive. Photo-sharing sites like Pinterest have also helped spread the word, which is how Laura, a mother of three who runs the blog Come Together Kids, learned of it.

“Thanks again, Pinterest, for helping me find another cool idea,” she wrote in a 2011 post explaining the trick. “I think these fun little magic messages might replace paper lunchbox notes in the kids' lunches when school starts. They definitely got a kick out of them for a summer snack.”

You can carve love notes — or creepy one-liners — for people to find later. (  Beatrice Murch   )

You can carve love notes — or creepy one-liners — for people to find later. (Beatrice Murch)

Last fall, elementary school students in Virginia Beach, Virginia also got a kick out of them. An employee at Kingston Elementary School began writing inspirational messages on the bananas sold to the kids in the cafeteria. Using a black felt marker, the woman — who learned the good deed from her mother and who requested to remain anonymous in the press — wrote upbeat mantras and words of advice, like “Just breathe,” “You are wise,” “Always do your best,” and “Be a great friend!”  

They were a hit. Students started looking forward to them and referring to them as “talking bananas.” Fruits that had previously been left untouched by the kids were now the most popular items in the cafeteria, the Washington Post reports.

It’s a win-win situation no matter how you look at it. Even if it’s hokey, reading positive, encouraging text can make you feel good, which in turn can help enhance your mood and improve your overall health. Bananas are a great tool for disseminating these messages because they’re cheap, available year-round, and pre-packaged. They’re also healthy, and in a world brimming with tantalizing, caloric food options, the tubular fruit could benefit from some good PR.

But how safe is it to consume a banana that has been written on with marker? We peeled through some research to find out.

As bananas ripen, their peels become thinner so if you’re going to write on bananas, it’s probably best to do it when they’re still slightly green. Not that you really have to worry about chemicals seeping into the fruit. Their peels are thick and hardy by design. And even though the peels are edible and quite nutritious, most people don’t eat them, so there is little risk of contamination.

James Dale, a professor of tropical crops at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, also did not seem fazed about the safety of eating a marked-up banana. Although he’d never heard of it until now — “I have had some strange questions before, but not this one,” he told OK Whatever — the idea didn’t concern him. “If she is only writing on the peel,” he said of the Virginia Beach cafeteria employee, “I suspect there are no adverse effects.”

In fact, the main risks involved with writing on bananas — be it with a toothpick or marker — are the messages you put on it. While they can be used as a vehicle for feel-good, life-affirming quotes, they can also be used for less saintly reasons. Like pranks.

Kevin Biegel, a TV writer and producer, introduced thousands of people to this discovery in a tweet posted last summer.

“Favorite new thing,” he wrote, “[is] scratching haunting things into bananas at the market so when people take them home hours later, and the words appear, they think a ghost knows their secrets.”

For reference, he included a picture of a banana that had “I know what you did” written on it. More than 150,000 people retweeted his post in the span of a day, with many offering suggestions of other frightening things to write on them, such as “Peel me and die,” “Please don’t skin me alive,” “Help, I’m being held hostage,” and just simply “RUN.”

So the next time you find yourself in the produce section of a market, pay more attention to the bananas. There might be a special message waiting for you. Will it be creepy or kind?


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