Blessing on Bananas and Berries

I was taught that the blessing before eating a fruit is “borei p’ri ha’aitz.” Yet the blessing for bananas is what we say on vegetables, “borei p’ri ha’adamah” When I asked around, no one seemed clear on the reason. One offered the farfetched suggestion that “because they grow facing down.” What is behind this distinction?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Yes, bananas are a well-known exception to the rule that on fruit one recites a “borei p’ri ha’aitz” (“who creates the fruit of the tree”). They seem to get an honorable mention in all the blessing guides given out in schools. They're also high in potassium and Vitamin C.

So what is the reason? The issue stems from (yes, pun intended) the definition of a tree in Jewish law. There is a range of opinions on this in the earlier commentators. The consensus, however, is that a tree is defined as a plant which remains from year to year and produces a yearly crop. Any plant which dies in the winter and must be replanted each year is not a tree.

Note that the above definition does not depend on the height of the tree or the woodiness of its stem. However, low bushes less than approximately 11 inches tall, such as the cranberry bush, are not considered trees (The Laws of Brachos by R. B. Forst, pp. 281-2; see Mishna Berurah 203:3).

Based on this, the Shulchan Aruch (203:3) rules that the blessing (bracha) on a “muzish” – Arabic for banana – is “borei p’ri ha’adamah.” Since the banana plant produces one crop only, it is considered a plant for the purposes of Jewish law. The same would be true of other plants whose branches die from year to year, such as the strawberry bush.

By contrast, most of the berries we eat which grow on low bushes, such as blueberries, merit a “borei p’ri ha’aitz.” Although as above low bushes are not considered full-fledged trees, virtually all such cultivated plants today are grown on large bushes and are thus considered trees. (Raspberries are the subject of a debate and an exception because their branches bear fruit only two times (V'Zot HaBracha p. 375 footnote 59).)

For an excellent overview of the laws of blessings, you might be interested in signing up for the Laws of Blessings course provided by the Aish Academy.

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