Delicious, nutritious, and scientifically propitious: Why banana bread was the saviour we never knew we kneaded

The pandemic’s tastiest trend has mental health benefits to sweeten the pot

The infamous lockdown ‘nana bread may have some unexpected benefits (Credit: Eve Rowlands)

As real bread week 2021 draws to a close, it’s only natural for us to write about the emblematic bake of lockdown: banana bread. If you haven’t made this tasty treat over the last 11 months, then you, my friend, have not properly lockdowned. All over our social media neighbours, family members and friends were baking the delicacy that took the nation by storm. They did it as a means to pass time, making do with age-old ingredients in lieu of going to the shops in a time where flour was scarce, or simply for the therapeutic properties of baking. As the months went on, it continued to be a staple and salvation for many people; it may have even saved what proportion of sanity we had left in our stale pandemic brain.

With bulk buying as standard procedure (toilet-roll roulette) in 2020, the number of leftover bananas in one house probably exceeded that of a regular year. And if it weren’t for this succulent, fluffy, delectable treat, those perfectly good ‘nanas would have been left for the fruit flies to get at.

Sugar, and spice, and all things nice

Banana bread is a combination of two staple ingredients which slot perfectly together. The humble banana provides fibre, antioxidants, and vitamins, plus  we all know it’s a wondrous source of potassium – always bring a banana to a party, you’ll thank us later. This fibrous dough, meanwhile, balances glucose levels and brings complex carbohydrates to the table, which give you energy. And then there are the sugars and spices, to obviously boost blood sugar levels through the stresses of the pandemic and curb out cravings. 

Whether you are a seasoned baker, or novice trying your hand at baking for the first time, making banana bread is a delicious way to turn procrastination into productivity, and an opportunity to regain control over a life that seemed to be spiralling into a void of eat sleep work-from-home-in-your-pyjamas repeat.

Mum of two Jessica from Gloucester tells us how she finds baking her time for relaxation. “I can switch my head off because I’m thinking about measurements or the next step.” This focus on the methodical aspect of baking is something many people have found to be a wondrous escape over the last year. 22-year-old furloughed barman Matt got into baking last summer, and noted, “Following a strict recipe really helped me focus.” This process mixed with some classic tunes to dance around the kitchen to helped his mental health massively, he explains: “I’d throw on some Lorde while I was mixing… [and] I was absolutely loving life.” He added, “I honestly wish I’d done It more. I had so much fun.”

The science of the banana bread

Speaking to Stylist, Kate Nightingale, a consumer psychologist, said in April of 2020, at what we thought would be the peak of the pandemic (oh so optimistic, so naïve), baking is the “ultimate act of self-reliance.” She added, “The independence the act of baking bread delivers is unparalleled to many other manifestations of control right now.” 

The pandemic has forced us to turn to ourselves for reliance and take control of our own happiness, for better or worse. The feelings of pressure and stress triggered by the pandemic can affect the behaviour of appetite.

According to Harvard Medical School, stress, in its first stages, suppresses hunger, but if this pressure persists, the body releases our age-old fight or flight hormone: cortisol – the “stress hormone”. It ramps up motivation to eat, and if bored in lockdown, potentially everything in sight. And in smelling and tasting, mood is likely to be boosted, so science tells us

Thanks for the memories

The five senses play a part in helping regain a feeling of control. Here, smell and taste are like gold dust. When the aroma of freshly baked Welsh cakes dances under your nose or the waft of a fresh loaf stops you dead in your tracks – hear us out – does it take you back to a time of joy and comfort? Can you picture yourself in the oversized apron at your Grandma’s kitchen table? 

A report by Psychology Today states, “Smell is the most nostalgic of all our senses because fragrance takes a direct route to the limbic brain, where emotional memories are processed.” Meaning our clever brains associate the deliciously sweet, perhaps salty perfume of freshly baked goods with memories. And when we taste it? Even better.

So, it’s no wonder so many of us turned to this tasty treat throughout the most unusual, stressful and unique year of our adult lives. Smells delish, tastes goooood and is easy to make with the 49853 speckled bananas lying about. What more could you want? 

And if that isn’t enough to tempt you, baking may enable you to have a slightly tighter grip on the wheel of life than you did a few hours ago. Even if the science baffles you, the placebo effect might be enough. Go on, give it a go! Pick up that spatula and cook up a banana bread storm, for the sake of your sanity.  And hey, even if it all goes pear-shaped, burns on top and looks like roadkill, you can take comfort in knowing that you tried. And trying never tasted so sweet.