The Real Reason Why Banana Bread Exploded During Quarantine

During quarantine, baking itself became a trend, but within this larger trend we saw a lot of mini-fads arise. Sourdough bread baking was huge for a while, but that's kind of complicated, with a high potential for failure –- plus, stores started running out of both yeast and flourFrog bread was cute, but that's also a yeast bread and thus not exactly a best bet for beginners.

Finally, though, banana bread had its moment. Mashed spoke with food history expert Katherine Spiers, who explained that the banana bread phenomenon occurred during the pandemic for "a couple [of] overlapping reasons." Some of these are quite easy to see, since banana bread is pretty basic — even if you make a few mistakes, the batter is still pretty forgiving. Spiers says she'd "argue that banana bread is even easier than cookies." 

Banana bread is also undoubtedly a comfort food — according to Spiers, "probably... because it's sweet. " Its comfort factor may also lie in the fact that it's also something that many associate with childhood. In times of stress, we all turn to old favorites, and most of what each of us considers to be our own personal comfort foods are deep-rooted in our past. Still, Spiers came up with another reason that may sound kind of surprising on the surface: she says that baking banana bread appeals to our sense of survival.

Banana bread is synonymous with survival

So how can recreating a recipe dimly remembered from middle school family and consumer science class equate to a survival skill? Spiers, who hosts the food history podcast Smart Mouth and publishes its companion newsletter, says it's all about being frugal. While bananas themselves are among the cheapest of fruits, banana bread is actually "a dish that exists to re-purpose leftovers," (since everyone knows it's best if you make it with over-ripe, mushy bananas), and that making such good use of produce past its prime actually does make us feel all gung-ho and survival-y.

As Spiers told Mashed, "I think a lot of people are thinking about those really basic survival skills for the first time in their lives, and it's because we went to the supermarket and saw all the empty aisles, and our animal instincts kicked in." She notes that food shortages haven't really been a thing in mainstream US society since WWII, so most of us had never before experienced stripped-bare supermarket shelves

Suddenly, ancient family stories of what great-grandma went through in the Great Depression didn't seem quite so irrelevant, and boomers, Gen-Xers, and millennials (and even a few zoomers) alike were scrambling to play catch-up, "learning things, tips and tricks, that were considered basic household management before the 1950s." Plus, as she notes, it's always good to start with something that's practically a guaranteed success, since "as baking goes, [banana bread is] incredibly easy."

Banana bread is also popular because it's popular

Yet another hallmark of quarantine is a seemingly universal feeling of profound boredom, which inevitably leads to — yes, you guessed it! TikTok videos. Hence all the oddball quarantine trends like pancake cereal, sushi cereal... put any tiny food in a bowl and call it cereal. At least banana bread is somewhat more relatable, and also edible. Spiers breaks down her take on how banana bread went viral: "people started posting their loaves... other people saw that and wanted in on the baking and posting action, and it just snowballed from there." She also spoke to the communal aspect of everybody baking the same thing at the same time, saying "we're all feeling pretty disconnected right now, so knowing we're in the kitchen metaphorically with other people is a big comfort."

Plus, the fact that celebs like Chrissy Teigen and Meghan Markle have been known to bake banana bread probably didn't hurt its popularity one bit. Want to jump on board the banana bread boat before it sails off to make way for the next food trend? Here's a super-easy recipe that only takes three ingredients, If you've got all of them on hand, you could be enjoying your own slice of sweet, comforting, thrifty deliciousness within the hour (or maybe just a few minutes longer so you don't burn your mouth).