Was artificial banana flavor based on the Gros Michel banana?

Artificial banana flavor doesn't taste much like actual bananas. It's sweeter and more pungent. And there's a legend about why this is so. The story goes that the difference in flavors came about because the artificial flavor was developed from an old variety of bananas called the Gros Michel. However, the Gros Michel succumbed to a fungus and ceased to be commercially produced. It was replaced by the Cavendish, which had a slightly different flavor. And so the artificial flavoring tasted like the original bananas, but not the ones we eat now.

Is there any truth to this legend? Chris Baraniuk did some research for the BBC, but he couldn't find any scientific source that verified the story. One organic chemist he talked to said it seemed "very, very unlikely."

Nevertheless, he found a farmer who still grows the Gros Michel who noted that the Gros Michel actually does taste a lot like artificial banana flavor. To anyone used to the Cavendish, the Gros Michel tastes "sort of amplified, sweeter and, yeah, somehow artificial."

So the artificial flavor may not have actually been developed from the Gros Michel, but the two actually do taste quite similar because both are sweeter than the Cavendish.

Baraniuk concludes that "perhaps there is some truth in the banana flavouring whodunnit after all. Once upon a time, banana flavourings really did taste more like the real thing."


Posted on Thu Sep 04, 2014


Banana oil is actually a lucky chance discovered over 100 years ago. It's a fairly simple compound isoamyl acetate that got called banana oil because it smelled a bit like bananas. It was actually one of the first artificial flavours.

Posted by Salviati  on  Tue Dec 16, 2014  at  05:42 PM
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