Why Artificial Banana Flavor Doesn't Taste Like The Real Thing

The humble banana has quite a history. Brought to the Caribbean from its original home in Southeast Asia in the early 19th century, bananas have become popular all over the world, according to 10 Best. The most popular variety of banana currently is the Cavendish, though PBS explains that there are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas grown in more than 150 countries worldwide — with one country producing 30,460,000 tons of bananas each year. Cavendish wasn't always the dominant banana, though, and the story of its rise to prominence is tied to the reason why artificial banana flavor doesn't taste like a real banana.

Before Cavendish bananas grew in popularity, a different banana outshone all of the others. Miami Fruit relays that the Gros Michel, also known as Fat Mike, was a hands-down favorite during the years between 1850 and the late 1950s. This seedless banana — yes, many varieties of bananas have seeds — was sweet and creamy, and one of the purposes of its thick peel is to protect the fragile fruit from bruising during its journey from warmer climes to Europe and North America. How did such a delicious and popular banana variety fall out of favor?

Gros Michel may have vanished, but its legacy lives on

PBS explains that a fungal outbreak known as Panama disease broke out in the mid-1900s, and it wiped out nearly all commercial banana production in the Caribbean and the Americas, a market that had been dominated by Gros Michel, the preferred banana. Nearly all the bananas we find in markets today are the Cavendish variety, which isn't as flavorful as Gros Michel.

So what about artificial banana flavoring? According to 10 Best, the flavoring is based on an organic compound called isoamyl acetate, a compound that's more prominent in Gros Michel bananas than Cavendish ones. So artificial banana flavoring tastes more like Gros Michel bananas with a "brighter and fuller flavor" than the Cavendish banana we are most familiar with. Likewise, candies like banana Runts or Laffy Taffy, which don't taste like the familiar Cavendish banana, were created with the Gros Michel banana in mind.