The best bananas for banana bread: how ripe should they be?

What makes banana bread so flavorful? Is it the touch of vanilla? A hint of cinnamon? Just the right balance of salt and sweet?

All of the above. But the most critical flavor in banana bread, the one that’ll make or break your loaf, is (no surprise) — banana. So if you want to make out-of-this-world banana bread, it’s important that you use the “right” bananas.

You’re standing in the produce section at your grocery store, looking at the bananas. There’re big ones and little ones. Organic bananas, and cute little bunches of mini-bananas.

Best Bananas for Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

Which do you choose?

It’s simple: the ripest ones.

Search out overripe bananas

Look beyond the “perfect” bananas, and see if you can find a rolling cart with reduced-price produce: bruised apples, soft lemons, wilted lettuce — and “overripe” bananas. A banana that’s way too squishy and soft for your cereal is just perfect for banana bread: the blacker the banana, the sweeter and more assertive its flavor.

The best bananas for banana bread are soft, super-sweet... and look like they're ready for the compost heap. Don't toss them — make bread! Click To Tweet

If you can’t find overripe bananas, you’ll need to create your own. Buy some bananas — which in most supermarkets are typically yellowish-green, or yellow tinged with green at the stem end.

Best Bananas for Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

These bananas may be a bit too ripe for your cereal, but they’re just beginning to come into their own for banana bread.

Let the bananas ripen (and overripen) at room temperature. Depending on the weather, this could take a few days, or up to a week.

The best bananas for banana bread aren’t yellow; they’re black. Or they’re at least streaked with black/brown, with just the barest hint of green at the stem. And again, the darker the better: there’s no such thing as a too-ripe banana when you’re making banana bread.

Obviously, this is a pain if you don’t tend to plan your baking projects well ahead, and you want to make banana bread immediately. If you’re a spur-of-the-moment baker, it pays to keep a stash of ripe bananas on hand at all times — in your freezer.

Build a stash of frozen overripe bananas

How does that work? Very well! Every time you see a banana in the fruit bowl teetering between just right and Fruit Fly Central, stick it in the freezer. I have a zip-top plastic bag full-time in my freezer for just this purpose.

Best Bananas for Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

Frozen bananas turn dark brown or black; that’s perfectly OK. When you’re ready to bake, take out the bananas you need and let them thaw at room temperature. Or thaw them in the microwave (skin and all); my microwave takes about 3 minutes to thaw four medium bananas.

Best Bananas for Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

Thawed bananas are very soft and watery; again, no worries. Simply slit their peels lengthwise and squeeze the squishy dark bananas into your mixing bowl (if you bake by weight) or measuring cup. They’ll be very soft and easy to mash. Do include any liquid.

You can also simply slice off the tip and squeeze the soft banana into your bowl or cup like you’re squeezing a tube of toothpaste.

Caveat emptor: You may have seen tips online for roasting under-ripe bananas in their skin for 30 minutes in a 350°F oven. This is supposed to concentrate their flavor and make them sweet. I tried it; they were indeed deep black, but they tasted like green bananas, only mushy. Don’t go there.

Finally, what if you just have to make banana bread right now — your best friend is dropping by and you promised her… but you don’t have any overripe bananas on hand?

Use whatever bananas you can get. Increase the sugar in the recipe by about 15% (generally 2 to 3 tablespoons) to help with the missing sweetness; and increase the salt by about 25% to help with flavor intensity.

Now this doesn’t apply to the completely green bananas you’ll sometimes see at the supermarket. So if that’s all you can find, just make pumpkin bread and call it a day!

Best Bananas for Banana Bread via @kingarthurflour

Have you made our Whole-Grain Banana Bread yet? It’s our 2018 Recipe of the Year, for many reasons — not the least its shower of crunchy cinnamon-sugar on top. I think I must have made this bread 40 to 50 times in the last six months, and it’s a runaway hit everywhere I share it. What are you waiting for? Go buy some bananas!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Camille Sones

    Am I correct in assuming that I can use these very ripe and frozen bananas for banana cake also? Does KAF have a recipe for banana cake? Thank you,
    Camille S

    Reply
  2. Giuditta Reppi

    One of my best friends is Brazilian, and she recently told me that the bananas Americans typically find in the supermarket are considered food for pigs in South America. Now that the summer traffic here on Cape Cod has let up a bit and I can cross town easier (do you hear me, PJ?) , I’ve been planning to check out the Brazilian market for these superior quality bananas. After this article, I want to try them baked in the KA recipe as well!

    Reply
  3. Patty Agacki

    I peel the bananas and put them in a freezer bag , usually the number I need for 1 loaf…less mess than dealing with the frozen peel(also can be used for a quick smoothie)

    Reply
  4. Dave P

    If you are short on ripe bananas, I have added purchased baby food. Some come a bit chunkier than others. They add moisture but have no added sugar and you can add just the amount you need to get to the volume you need.

    Reply
  5. Charlotte Casey

    Thank you for this! I often put old bananas in the freezer but always end up throwing them out because they look so awful (I know don’t cry). Now I’ll be brave and make lots and lots of banana bread! No problem freezing the baked bread after the bananas have been frozen right? I have a great recipe but plan to try yours soon…hmm maybe a taste off!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You can most definitely freeze banana bread after the bananas have been frozen, Charlotte. Banana bread is a baked good that’s known for holding up incredibly well during freezing. Just be sure to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap (and for extra insurance, wrap it again in foil) and freeze for up to 3 months. You’ll be so delighted when you remember your hidden stash. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  6. Sallie

    Nice to know nanners do well frozen in their skins. Used the cook in the oven to ripen. You are right: don’t go there. If I am making one loaf, I am making 4 loaves. Not that much more trouble and they live well in the freezer.

    Reply
  7. Mary G

    I can’t believe all the loaves of banana bread I’ve made over the years and missed out on those uber sweet bananas. Thank you for the good description and the freezing suggestion. I’ve thrown out so many “good”bananas! Never again.

    Reply

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