Banana Flavor

Many people enjoy eating bananas. There are also many people who enjoy eating banana flavored candy. But the two groups do not completely overlap, with many people who enjoy bananas hating banana flavor. A distinct difference in taste does exist between the two, but why? Who was the madman that devised the current banana flavor?

German banana-flavored marshmallows
German banana-flavored marshmallows

Most popular bananas enjoyed today were not nearly as common before the 1960s. The most common banana before then was the “Gros Michel” or “Big Mike” banana. Big Mikes were more brightly colored and had a stronger flavor. Banana flavor was first based on the Gros Michel banana and most often candies simply used banana oil (of which the Big Mikes had a higher concentration). But what happened to the Big Mikes? Where did they go?

Gros Michel bananas are still available in Asian nationa like Thailand (pictured)
Gros Michel bananas are still available in Asian nationa like Thailand (pictured)

Starting in the late 19th century, Gros Michel bananas became the most popular banana in the US. But in the 1950s, a fungal disease, called Panama disease, began to spread among the Big Mikes. So fast, in fact, it created a panic within the banana farming industry. Hurriedly they had to find a new banana to replace Big Mikes, and a replacement that would remain unaffected by the Panama disease. They decided on the “Cavendish” banana.

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Today, the long yellow bananas people enjoy on their ice cream sundaes are Cavendish bananas. William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, was given a sample of the banana to grow in his hothouse. After some minor development, the bananas grown in that hothouse have led to near all varieties of Cavendish banana seen today. These bananas have a lot less of the “banana oil” (a.k.a. isoamyl acetate) that Big Mikes had, so the flavor found in them differs greatly from the candy flavor. While the bananas changed, the candy flavor never did!

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