If you've ever eaten banana-flavored foods like Runts, Laffy Taffy or Jell-O Pudding then you know that their unmistakable taste is nothing like that of the actual yellow-peeled fruit.
While most artificial food flavors rarely taste 'natural', banana flavoring is actually closer to the real deal than you would think.
According to Food & Wine, "it's not that the fake banana flavor doesn’t taste like bananas, it’s that bananas don’t taste as flavorful as they used to."
There's a very interesting, but somewhat complicated reason why the banana-like flavor our taste buds are used to is significantly different from a real banana.
Are you ready to have your mind blown?
In the first half of the 20th century, Americans were eating a much bigger, sweeter and overall more flavorful type of banana called Gros Michel or 'Big Mike.' The fruit was native to the Americas and was grown in plantations across central America until the 1950s when Panama Disease, a fungus that affected bananas since the 1800s, began to destroy the crops.
By the 1960s, the Gros Michel became extinct.
It wasn't long before a blander and pathogen-resistant cousin of the Gros Michel, the Cavendish, was discovered. The original crops were replaced with this new fruit which we are still eating today.
As far as the legend goes, the pungent banana note we taste when eating candies and certain artificially flavored foods is different from the Cavendish because it is based on the Gros Michel.
This explanation sounds believable, but does it hold true? Synthetic organic chemist Derek Lowe doesn't think so.
“It sounds very, very unlikely to me,” he told BBC. “The thing is, banana can be mimicked most of the way with a simple compound called isoamyl acetate. Many chemists know it as ‘banana ester’ and anyone who smells it immediately goes, ‘banana!’ ”
As for the origin of the Gros Michel myth? Hawaiian banana farmer Rob Guzman may have an explanation.
The banana expert grows 35 different varieties of the fruit including the Gros Michel and he agrees that the flavor is almost artificial like.
“It’s almost like what a Cavendish would taste like but sort of amplified, sweeter and, yeah, somehow artificial. Like how grape flavoured bubble-gum differs from an actual grape,” he explained. “When I first tasted it, it made me think of banana flavourings.”
So perhaps the explanation that banana flavoring tastes like the Gros Michel is not so far fetched.