How Bananas Foster Really Got Its Name

In the world of popular desserts, you're probably more likely to think of cake, brownies, and pie than bananas. You may consider the popular banana split sundae to be a classic dessert but for most people, that's as far as they're thinking. But there's one underappreciated banana dessert that combines rum, ice cream, and of course, bananas into a sweet, syrupy treat.

Bananas Foster may be a regional desserts, meaning that you're more likely to find it in a certain place than you would anywhere else. Just as Pennsylvania has teaberry ice cream and Buffalo has sponge candy, Louisiana boasts the Bananas Foster as their prized dessert (via Southern Living). Made with bananas cooked in rum, butter, and brown sugar that's spooned over vanilla ice cream, it's not a particularly hard dish to make — unless you're not skilled in flambéing, but there are recipes that avoid that step altogether.

But just who is Foster anyway? Was it the name of some Louisiana legend or is it just a clever name lost to history by the inventors of the dish? The truth is rooted in the attempt to clean up New Orleans of crime and the history of bananas in the Bayou.

Banana Foster is named after Richard Foster

If you're ever down in New Orleans, there's a chance the locals or your tourist guide will point you to a place called Brennan's. The spot is known for its Creole dishes, according to its website, and has been part of the already colorful New Orleans dining scene since 1946. It is also the birthplace of Bananas Foster.

You see, while bananas in New Orleans are a mundane sight today, there was a time when they were key to the Big Easy's economy. Around the late 19th century to the early 20th century, bananas were something of a delicacy, an exotic fruit that was quickly becoming a staple of the American diet (via Nola). New Orleans served as one of the largest import hubs for bananas coming to Latin America. In the early 1950s, Owen Brennan — the founder of Brennan's — requested that his chef Paul Blangé and his sister Ella Brennan create a dish featuring the exotic banana, as the family fruit company had a surplus of bananas (via The Kitchen Project). 

But what to call this new flambéed dish? As the story goes, the dish was named after Richard Foster, a prominent member of the New Orleans Crime Commission and a family friend (via Southern Living). In honor of Foster and his work to clean up corruption in the Big Easy, the banana dish was named the Bananas Foster.