Why Banana Flavoring Never Tastes Like Real Bananas

Have you ever eaten a piece of banana-flavored taffy? Have you ever gone to one of those 25-cent candy machines and gotten a handful of Runts, those tiny fruit-shaped pieces of candy that taste like apple, orange, grape, and, of course, banana? If you have, there's a safe bet that you can say that, whatever it was, those candies sure didn't taste like banana.

To be fair, not all candies are going to taste spot-on. You wouldn't expect a grape-flavored lollipop to taste exactly like grapes picked fresh off of the vine. Many candies are not made with real fruit juice but rather with a variety of artificial flavorings and additives to give them that "taste" that isn't quite fruit but almost like it.

According to The Takeout, food historian Nadia Berenstein traces the invention of these artificial fruit flavors back to the nineteenth century. Scientists who worked on developing these artificial flavorings, at the time, simply based the flavors on what they knew. Grapes, for example, were based on the Concord grape (which, according to Specialty Produce, has that classic deeply tangy and sweet fruit flavor you associate with grape juice and grape candy). Cherries were associated with wild cherries, so the flavor was created to have that somewhat sour taste you'd expect in cherry-flavored suckers.

But why does banana flavoring have such an odd flavor? The answer lies within the exact type of banana that scientists based the flavor off of.

Banana flavor is based on the Gros Michel banana

A Gros Michel banana? It may come as some surprise, but there are different types of the yellow fruit you see all the time in supermarkets. One of these varieties was the Gros Michel banana.

According to America's Test Kitchen, there's a popular belief that the Gros Michel (or the "Big Mike") banana was the basis for that overly sweet artificial banana flavor. The banana was actually a fairly common staple in supermarkets all across the United States. How bananas really get to your table or even the supermarket is an entirely different story.

Before you go and say, "I've had plenty of bananas, and none of them taste like artificial bananas," it's because you've never eaten a Gros Michel banana. In fact, you more than likely have always eaten the Cavendish banana. The Gros Michel banana got nearly wiped out by a fungal disease in the 1950s, making the banana pretty hard to market.

But is the claim that artificial banana flavors are based on a rare, possibly extinct banana true? According to the BBC, there may be some truth to the matter. BBC journalist Chris Baraniuk was able to sample a Gros Michel banana from a Hawaiian banana farmer, describing the taste as "sort of amplified, sweeter and, yeah, somehow artificial."

If you're pretty hungry for bananas after all that — and by bananas, we mean the real deal — maybe you could find something a-peeling throughout our list of the best banana recipes.