Illustrated by Macy Sinreich, Columbia University

Inside the Popularity of the Comforting Treat Banana Bread 

In a time when dessert possibilities are endless, why are we constantly returning to the same old staple? 
June 6, 2024
6 mins read

Tracing back to the Great Depression with a boom in popularity during the early in the pandemic, banana bread is a staple that’s long held onto the American consciousness. 

While to bake something with love is a common saying in households, there are linguistic roots for the association between bread and love. The word companion can be traced back to the Latin word panis which originally meant bread with the word’s use to indicate someone to share a meal with. The word for friend in French has similar origins. The French word for friend (“copain”) mashes up the prefix “co” (often translated to together or shared) and the word “pain” (meaning bread). To have a friend is to have someone to share the bread with. 

Although there might not be a similar linguistic connotation in America, there is still a deep love of bread, particularly banana bread. Many have fond memories of making banana bread with their families, and even if they didn’t make it themselves, they can recall watching their relatives make it. For those without homemade recipes, there is no shortage online, and for those not wanting to make it themselves, banana bread can be easily found in the grocery store bakery. 

The now staple of American households found its way into kitchens in the 1930s, following a boom in accessibility for baking soda and baking powder. The increased accessibility allowed people to make banana bread easily. While levened bread can be tricky to make – the whole problem of timing out when yeast is going to rise – banana bread is refreshingly simple given its use of baking soda and baking powder instead of yeast. Given the economic conditions of the era, it makes sense that something as easy to make as banana bread would become popular, in a time where food insecurity ran rampant. 

A main reason one turns to banana bread when wanting a cozy treat is the fact that it’s easy to make. Bananas are typically in season all year round, and inexpensive compared to other fruits. Regardless of whether you’re a first time baker or a seasoned banana bread chef, banana bread can be counted to consistently come out of the oven warm, crumbly, and moist because of its simple recipe. 

The ingredients needed to make banana bread can vary, but often include foundational ingredients. They would be bananas, eggs, butter, flour, baking soda, and baking powder, which can all be mixed in a single bowl. People will often add other ingredients to the mix, such as nuts and chocolate chips, without having to worry about upsetting the recipe.

While one may associate banana bread with the continental United States, the baked good is especially popular on the Hawaiian islands. The Road to Hana, a 64 mile road on the island of Maui, is famous for the banana bread stands along it which produce a product spongy and moist in quality. The bakers on Maui have access to a variety of locally grown bananas, such as the common Williams banana and native apple banana. 

Banana bread, while consistently popular since the 2000s, saw a spike in Google Searches in March and April 2020. CNBC ranked banana bread as the number one searched recipe in 2020. These trends aren’t surprising given how people spent 2020:; indoors with too much time on their hands. Baking banana bread is an easy way to pass time, while also providing a method of bonding to those living together.

There’s a sense of pride one gets when they bake something themselves, and banana bread recipes allow even those who struggle with baking typically to make something they can be proud of. Contributing can be as easy as cracking an egg or pouring in some baking soda. 

It’s clear that banana bread is here to stay. There’s room for experimentation, a structure for those in love with the classic banana bread taste, and simplicity for those simply wanting to contribute. Banana bread was popular in the 1930s, embedding itself into the American cookbook, and spiked in popularity in the 2020s, highlighting how even fan favorites can come back stronger into the public consciousness. As people say, the best food is made with love and the love is evident in the many loaves of banana bread that are made and consumed each day. 

Archie Wagner, University of Iowa

Contributing Writer


University of Iowa

English & Creative Writing

"Archie Wagner is a writer/playwright/essayist attending the University of Iowa as a sophomore. In their free time, they love attending theatre productions and experimenting with clown makeup."

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