The Fermented Ingredient That Adds Complexity To Banana Bread

Banana bread is the humblest of baked goods. It gained popularity during the Great Depression as a way of keeping those ubiquitous kitchen counter bananas from going to waste, per King Arthur Baking Company, and is still a favorite means of saving them from the trash. It's also easy (a fork is the only utensil needed), fast (of the quick-bread category), and satisfactorily heavy, mild, moist, and sweet — a comfort distilled into a loaf (like us on certain weekends). According to King Arthur Baking Company, it's the bread recipe with the most hits on the internet. "Foods high in carbs trigger a release of dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, so they're definitely triggering chemicals in the brain that make us feel good," author Rachel Herz, Ph.D. told Well + Good of why banana bread might present so much enjoyment. 

Some of us have strong sensory memories attached to bread pans or paper-wrapped slabs at the coffee shop — the golden crown rising over the edges and cooked banana flavor infusing every bite (homey yet far-flung). 

Plenty want it simple, with just a hint of vanilla in the batter, or some butter melting into a slice; Others treat it as a foundation for embellishments like sesame seeds, orange peel, coffee, and apricot jam (via King Arthur Baking Company). And we have one more rendition of banana bread to share that uses another food of distant origins.

Mix in a little miso

Banana bread is essentially a combination of "bananas, sweetener, a chemical leavener, some fat, and flour," explains King Arthur Baking Company, "But beyond that they can differ wildly." Per Taste of Home, chocolate chips, raisins, maple syrup, pineapple, and peanut butter are all worthwhile additions. And yes, walnuts, too.

But The New York Times suggests we try stirring in miso. Although it may seem a bit unusual, the fermented soybean paste tempers the bread's sweetness without being too assertive, claims Food52. As they explain, the ingredient adds a salty and savory component that works in tandem with the banana's fruitiness and sweet crumb to create a more complex flavor. It's not unlike the alchemy of Fleur de sel caramels or chocolate-covered pretzels. On that note, if you prefer a banana bread version with chocolate chips, miso is an ideal complement. Per Food & Wine, cookbook author Andrea Slonecker says it's a perfect partner to dark chocolate, imparting "... depth and umami, an almost buttery quality, and saltiness ... " 

Perhaps miso, an integral element in Japanese cuisine, according to Epicurious, is a familiar taste, although it's generally reserved for savory dishes. If that's the case, it could be just the thing to activate your sensory memories, elevating the comfort factor already so ingrained in the baked sweet. And if not, it's banana bread — what's not to like?