Troubleshooting Banana Bread

Reader Gerhard, one of the world’s all-time great banana bread enthusiasts, reports that his bread has been getting steadily paler over the years. At least compared to the deep golden brown that he used to get and prefers. He wonders: why that might be? Could banana cultivars have changed any over the years? Maybe his flour? Or could it be some other factor?

Gerhard, I’ve had that same experience. Occasionally I think my crust isn’t as brown as my mother’s, or the crumb isn’t the same rich yellow. The cause is usually very simple: I’ve added too much acid to the batter in the form of lemon juice or buttermilk. As we discussed on the blog here not long ago, pH has a big impact on browning reactions. An acidic batter will yield a paler product. This is not to say you don’t want to add any acid, especially if there’s soda in the formula. But be aware of adding much extra acid. My recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of either milk or buttermilk. For a deep golden bread, I’ll use regular milk.

So my feeling, Gerhard, is that perhaps you’ve gotten in the habit of using more acidic ingredients over time, or perhaps you’re not measuring as closely as you’ve gotten more comfortable mixing up batches of batter. Of course something else to remember is to make sure your bananas are good and brown. The riper the bananas the more sugary they are, and that’s good for caramelization! Thanks for the question!

36 thoughts on “Troubleshooting Banana Bread”

  1. Now THAT is some important information! Thanks for the question Gerhard and thanks for the answer Joe! Banana bread is imminent as my bananas are more than ready. I will try regular milk this time instead of the buttermilk. Thanks again!
    Eva

      1. Last night, I took to heart (maybe a bit much) the need to make the banana bread darker on the inside. It is always beautifully dark on the outside. I do use the Joe Pastry Banana Bread recipe. I have found it excellent in every way. I think the key here is to have kids! Yes Kids! Because kids will ask for the darnedest things…. like Chocolate Banana Bread as they did last night. Well, let me tell you about dark banana bread! I substituted 2 oz of flour with 2 oz of cocoa powder. It was Dark! It was also delicious though I think I need to play with it a little more as it could use a bit more sweetness and a bit more moisture. The banana flavor was right on and the chocolate was not over powering. So… dark-on-the-inside banana bread? Just add cocoa! 😉

        Eva

        1. That’s inspired, Eva!

          And yes, you’ll need to add a little more liquid since cocoa powder is so incredibly absorbent. Try doubling or tripling the milk for starters. Boil it and add it to the cocoa before you make the batter to unlock even more chocolate flavor!

          Ingenious!

          – Joe

          1. Thanks Joe! I will try that soon. The kids seem to know that if the last three bananas are left to over-ripen, there will be banana bread in the near future. So… of course, I already have 3 bananas just waiting to be made into bread. 😀
            Eva

  2. About the only acidic ingredient that I know I use in banana baking soda (1 tsp, 2 if making a double batch). And it browns nicely. But the crumb is almost always pretty dark…darker than my zucchini or carrot bread, usually.

    1. Hey Michael!

      You mean alkaline, correct? Soda is an alkaline, so I’m not surprised one bit that you get all that good color. It;s great for browning!

      Cheers,

      – joe

          1. checking in here during the quarantine to say that i’m def going to try doing banana bread with baking soda now. i’ve tried and tried and tried to get my banana bread to be a deep beautiful dark brown, but mine just comes out all pale and pasty 🙁 stumbled upon your website while searching out solutions…thanks Joe! hoping this time i’ll reach that deep brown level!

          2. Hello Wei!

            Thank you for checking in. And please do let me know how the next batch turns out. I’ll be curious!

            Cheers,

            Joe

      1. Actually baking soda is amphoteric and can react as both an acid and a base. It can form both carbonic acid salts as well as alkaline carbonates.

        In fact, if you were to have a chemical spill, baking soda can neutralize both acids and bases.

        It’s pH is slightly alkaline (8.4) in solution (compared to the carbonates it can form – 11.6) but it’s capable of some pretty complex chemistry. I’d hate to guess at all of the reactions it could participate in when you cook with it.

        One of the neutralization reactions that it can participate in happens to release carbon dioxide is all. If we used more strong bases in cooking you’d also have a neutralization reaction that would form the carbonate and water.

        Interesting, but not super helpful.

        1. Great stuff, Aaron. And in fact it explains quite a bit. I’m very grateful you took the time to write it down for me!

          Cheers,

          – Joe

  3. Personally, I don’t think bananas — the yellow ones in the grocery store — taste as banana-y as they used to. Or maybe I’m experiencing the age-related decline in taste-buds.

    A friend says the best banana bread she’s ever eaten was made using the little red bananas that you sometimes see in the grocery stores or “ethnic” markets. She says the flavour is superior to the yellow bananas.

    I don’t think I’ve ever made banana bread, so if anyone has the ultimate banana bread recipe, I love to have it. (Hint, hint.)

      1. Well, yes…there you have it. Two questions…

        Since I don’t always happen to have buttermilk handy, and I’m not likely to buy a litre so as to have the 1.5 Tbsp needed for the recipe, can I use sweet milk or yogurt?

        What are the dimensions of a “one pound” loaf pan? (I asked at my local store if they had any, and the sales clerk looked at me and asked how big it is. “Well, it’s a pound,” I replied.)

        And about the pumpkin bread. All the recipes I see for pumpkin bread say to use pumpkin and not “pumpkin pie fill”. How come?

        Thanks muchly!

        1. Hey Ted!

          Regular milk is just fine to use instead of the buttermilk in my banana bread recipe. However just for general reference a cup of buttermilk = i cup milk – 1 tablespoon milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar. Sour cream or yogurt work just as well!

          Also, 1 pound loaf pan is about 8.5″ x 4.5″ x 2.75″.

          And the reason recipes specify pumpkin puree instead of filling is because canned filling already has sugar and spices in it.

          Cheerio!

          – Joe

    1. You have to let them get black…you want to use them just before they start to ooze…

  4. Joe, for my bestest banana cake (or bread?) recipe, google “heartnof mary banana cake.”. So good, moist and “cakey light.”. One trick of mine to make it yellower and which also happens to be good for you is the sprinkling of Turmeric, yes Turmeric, powder.

  5. hmmm. My banana bread-recipe doesn’t call for any extra liquid. Not even lemon juice. It’s just butter, sugar, eggs, bananas, flour, baking powder, vanilla and nutmeg.

    But then again, there were times when I used baking soda instead of baking powder. Maybe that’s it (although I don’t think so really). My best guess is that the key ingredients have changed over the years somehow.

    Remember the days when banana bread was almost dark… those were the days :)))

    1. You could be right…who knows?

      I’m sure there are different banana cultivars being used these days. As to how they might be different I can’t say. Sorry I wasn’t of more help here!

      – Joe

    2. My mothers banana bread was very dark and 2 inches high and dense. She was very impressed with the bread I made from this site

      1. Great to hear it Krash. Haven’t seen you around for a bit I don’t think. Hope all’s well in your world!

        – Joe

  6. Also, many older recipes seem to call for the addition of cinnamon in various amounts, and that, upon baking, adds a shade to the bread. And for those of you who love this confection ( I happen not to), a handful of pulverised banana chips in the batter should do the trick in terms of extra flavor. My younger borther would do anything for me if I make him a banana bread or cake :).

  7. Hi, Ted-
    I’m no expert, but I think pumpkin pie filling has lots of other ingredients than just puréed pumpkin flesh. Things like spices, among others. I think it’s looser, too. Next time you’re at the store, compare the ingredient lists.

    I did mis-read a cookie recipe once and used pumpkin pie filling instead of purée (oops! Too late now!) and the cookies came out fine, just maybe extra moist. Might have needed a bit more time in the oven, too.

    Happy shopping!
    Sq

  8. I once had a problem with old baking soda, which caused my bread to stay yellow and not rise. Although baking soda does have a long shelf life, it does eventually go bad.
    If you’re ever in question, put a small amount of baking soda in hot water, if it fizzles it is still good to use. (You can do the same thing with baking powder in vinegar.)

    1. Good point, Ash! Especially if there’s any humidity in the room, soda will lose its oomph. Thanks for that!

      – Joe

  9. Just made banana/blueberry bread. Loved the recipe, batter was beautiful yellow, recipe picture showed yellow cake with blueberries. No butter recipe with baking soda. I use a aluminum non stick loaf pan. My bread came out brown and as I cut into it the further to middle I went the color changed to lighter brown going to pale yellowish. Consistency was good but bread on outside towards ends tasted “doner” than inside towards middle. Is it my oven? My pan? This happened before with same pan and different recipe of quick bread.

    1. Hey Leisha,

      This bread is a little drier on the ends than the center if it’s baked a little longer of if the oven is a little hotter. I’d say use as thick a loaf pan as you can find and perhaps calibrate your oven to make sure it isn’t running hot.

      Cheers and thanks for the note,

      – Joe

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