Flavor Investigator: Banana

One could argue that bananas are the perfect fruit. They are healthy, affordable and convenient because of their protective peel. Among the fruits which are available bananas are by far the most popular and have even been crowned Walmart’s best selling product in 2015. According to the Market and Policy Analyses of Raw Materials, Horticulture and Tropical (RAMHOT) Products Team the per capita banana consumption in the U.S for 2012 was 13.8kg. This is not surprising considering the fruits flavor development.

Bananas have an interesting flavour transition during their ripening process. Unripe bananas which still contain the green peel have a bland flavour with apparent notes of grassiness. Furthermore, less ripe bananas contain higher levels of starch and therefore have a “starchier” taste. As they ripen a more distinctive fruity flavour develops accompanied melon, pineapple, candy and clove flavour notes. Yellow bananas have higher sugar concentrations and therefore taste sweeter. Finally, when the peel has become brown, the banana contains notes which are reminiscent of vanilla, honey and rum.

The more likely reason why banana candies taste “fake” is that they lack the complexity of real bananas have. According to research, the aromatic profile of bananas of fresh bananas contains a total of 49 components. These of 49 components do not take an equal role as some remain backstage in small qualities to create notes which contribute to the complexity of bananas. For example, the chemical compound eugenol found in bananas smells spicy, like cinnamon. This is not surprising it is also found in clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.

The Legend Behind Artificial Banana Flavour

If you have ever had the opportunity to taste certain banana candies you might notice that the flavour is not as similar to the real fruit as you might expect. There is a legend as to why this might be the case. Artificial banana flavouring is believed to have been developed from an old variety of banana known as the Gros Michel. During the 20th century however this variety was attacked by a fungus. In order to fulfil the population’s love of bananas the Cavendish variety was cultivated instead. This variety still continues to be seen in supermarkets today. Nonetheless, the issue behind this legend is that there is little research to back of this claim.

The more likely reason why banana candies taste “fake” is that they lack the complexity of real bananas have. According to research, the aromatic profile of bananas of fresh bananas contains a total of 49 components. These of 49 components do not take an equal role as some remain backstage in small qualities to create notes which contribute to the complexity of bananas. For example, the chemical compound eugenol found in bananas smells spicy, like cinnamon. This is not surprising it is also found in clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Isoamyl acetate

Most of bananas “banana” flavour can be contributed to the organic ester compound isoamyl acetate. Isoamyl acetate has a strong odour described as being both banana and pear like. In banana candies you will find this compound in abundant quantities. Additionally, n-Butyl acetate is found in bananas and other fruits such as apples.  This ester has similar flavor notes to isoamyl acetate as it is described as fruity, banana and ripe.

Possible Unique Flavour Combinations with Bananas

  • Banana and Parsnip- Parsnips when cooked have a sweet and earthy flavour with notes of nutmeg and butteriness. During WWII parsnips were actually boiled and mashed with spices to mimic the flavour of bananas as both have a clove like sweetness.
  • Banana and Egg- Japanese omelettes are known for their combination of soy sauce and sugar in the mixture. Instead of combining common table sugar these omelettes can be filled with fried bananas to create a unique breakfast experience.
  • Banana and Anise- Anise is a flowering plant in which the seeds are used in culinary preparations. However, anise is also a phrase used to describe the flavour note similar to that of liquorice. Liquorice has a distinctive malty bite which complements the sweeter, smoother and softer elements of the banana. 

Sources

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Baraniuk, C. (2017). The secrets of fake flavoursBbc.com. Retrieved 7 May 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140829-the-secrets-of-fake-flavours

Jordán, M., Tandon, K., Shaw, P., & Goodner, K. (2001). Aromatic Profile of Aqueous Banana Essence and Banana Fruit by Gas Chromatography−Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) and Gas Chromatography−Olfactometry (GC-O). Journal Of Agricultural And Food Chemistry49(10), 4813-4817. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jf010471k

Phung, A. (2017). Bananascienceandfooducla. Retrieved 7 May 2017, from https://scienceandfooducla.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/banana/

Segnit, N. (2012). The flavor thesaurus (1st ed.). New York: Bloomsbury.

 

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