One of the great American pastimes is arguing about food: Which city has the best pizza, which state smokes the best barbecue, what’s the best way to make a lobster roll. But when it comes to the most popular recipe to make at home, we can all agree that banana bread reigns supreme, right?
There’s data to prove it. Since 2004, Google search interest for banana bread has gradually climbed, hitting a huge spike in March and April 2020 at the start of the pandemic. That year, banana bread ranked as the No. 1 searched recipe in the U.S., according to CNBC. Since January 2020, almost a million Delish readers have sought out our Best Banana Bread recipe via internet search, and the recipe has well over 2 million page views in that time period alone. That’s a lot of loaves.
During the pandemic, “banana bread had a major moment,” said Laurel Randolph, food writer and recipe editor at the cooking blog Simply Recipes. “Everyone was trapped in their homes and baking, and it feels like everyone made banana bread.” One reason for its rise in popularity is that it’s so easy to bake. She highlighted that many beginner home cooks try their hand at banana bread, “and they’re able to successfully make a great loaf.”
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American bakers’ love affair with the sweet bread can be traced back to the 1930s, when the Great Depression forced home cooks to hold onto any spare ingredients, like brown bananas. At the same time, baking powder and baking soda became more accessible, according to King Arthur Baking Company.
From that decade on, myriad renditions of banana bread have cropped up. For instance, during World War II, recipes resulted in hearty and affordable—but modest—banana bread, King Arthur reports. By the 1950s, the bread was on its way to becoming “a staple of home baking,” according to the BBC.
But does any region of the U.S. claim banana bread as its own? Maui, an island of Hawaiʻi, maintains a global reputation for producing what is arguably the best take on the recipe, possibly due to the local bananas, the BBC reports. Several contenders for Maui’s best banana bread, per Hawaiʻi Magazine, include Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread, Julia’s Best Banana Bread, and the Halfway to Hana stand.
Sarah Jampel, test kitchen and recipe development manager at King Arthur, recalled first baking banana bread in elementary school at a neighbor’s house with a friend, all by themselves. The ease of the recipe is part of its mass appeal, she said.
“Banana bread has that familiarity going for it,” said Jampel, who’s in charge of the hundreds of recipes that King Arthur publishes annually. Americans widely understand the sweet bread, recognizing what it’s supposed to taste and look like.
Other factors that have boosted the bread’s popularity include bananas’ availability year-round and its relative low cost. Often, the recipes don’t require special cookware, so bakers can whip it up by hand, Jampel said.
Banana bread can also take on substitutions and variations, utilizing different flavors that make it more exciting. Jampel’s trade secret? “The riper your bananas, the better your banana bread will be—the sweeter it will be, the more flavorful it will be, the moister it will be.”
Over the past five years, she’s watched the traditional recipe get “glamorized.” Bakers have tried to “make banana bread beautiful, so that banana bread can have an Instagram moment.”
She pointed to one pivotal point: when food writer Alison Roman sliced a banana lengthwise and topped her loaf with the halves in her recipe for cocoa banana bread in her 2017 cookbook, Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes. Another highlight in banana bread history was in 2018 when Bon Appétit’s Molly Baz introduced her blackout chocolate banana bread.
Natasha Kravchuk, who runs the family food blog Natasha’s Kitchen, notes that recent times of economic instability have driven bakers to banana bread. It’s “one of those things that people turned to for comfort.”
Raised in Ukraine, Kravchuk started her blog in 2009 as a hobby to document and learn more about her homeland’s cuisine. After its popularity skyrocketed, she and her husband Vadim left their full-time jobs to focus on Natasha’s Kitchen.
Kravchuk credits the popularity of banana bread to its universality across meal times and the adoration that all age groups share for the food. On top of that, “it’s a very forgiving recipe,” she added.
For Randolph at Simply Recipes, it ultimately comes down to one question: “How many recipes turn something you’d normally toss into the trash into a delicious baked good?”
Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton works as a business reporter at The Denver Post. For two years, she chased after lawmakers on Capitol Hill as Bloomberg Government’s agriculture and trade policy reporter. Megan has covered the Venezuelan refugee crisis in Peru, parliamentary affairs in England, White House press briefings in Washington, D.C., and midterm elections in Arizona.