The Must-Try Ingredient Swap That Takes Banana Pudding Up A Notch

Where American desserts are concerned, there's no question that banana pudding is the darling of the bunch. Although the sweet, creamy dessert likely has Northern roots, it was long ago coined as a Southern specialty. Traditional banana pudding was made with custard, bananas, and sponge cake, though most modern no-bake banana pudding recipes call for instant vanilla pudding and vanilla wafers instead. Mashed recipe developer Nathaniel Lee, however, claims that if you're not using banana-flavored instant pudding, you're seriously missing out.

If you make this dessert staple with vanilla instant pudding, you're placing the onus of the dish's fruity flavoring on the layers of sliced banana. Lee's recipe, on the other hand, doubles down on the taste with a banana-flavored base. "Absolutely, 100% use instant banana pudding, not vanilla," he told Mashed. While some folks steer clear of banana flavoring, believing it tastes nothing like the real thing, Lee says using banana instant pudding will actually give your dish a much more authentic fruity flavor.

Cavendish bananas can't carry banana pudding on their own

While vanilla pudding more closely matches the flavor of the vanilla custard recipe used in original banana pudding, modern-day bananas lack the strong, fresh taste older recipes require and thus can't carry the dish, Nathaniel Lee told Mashed. "The flavor we believe to be 'fake banana' or 'artificial banana' is actually the flavor of the Gros Michel," Lee explained, adding, "The Gros Michel was the banana our parents and grandparents grew up with. [It] is commercially extinct, replaced with the modern Cavendish banana. This is why fake banana flavor tastes so foreign to us today; it is based on a banana species we don't eat anymore."

Because Cavendish bananas have a more subtle taste than the Gros Michel variety, pairing them with banana-flavored pudding lessens the real bananas' responsibility. By using the more flavorful pudding with the less flavorful modern bananas, you can even out the taste of the dessert. "All banana recipes from the '60s or earlier were meant to have the sweeter, more floral flavor of the Gros Michel," Lee said, "So using banana instant pudding with fresh Cavendish bananas gives you the closest taste as possible to the original."