Ripe for the baking – Why do bananas brown?

It was a chilly day and I was craving a good baked treat. But what to make? Should I pay tribute to the fall with apple handpies or pumpkin scones? Homemade brownies sounded good…but so did another batch of chocolate chip cookies… cupcakes with buttercream frosting would really be a treat…and homemade bread would make the house smell so good… Already buzzing on the prospect of sugar, I texted the hubs. And, what did he request? BANANA NUT MUFFINS. Yes, of all the indulgences, he opts for banana nut muffins. My man of surprises.  I swiped a few ripe bananas from my kiddo’s stash and whipped up a dozen muffins.

As you bakers know well, for banana bread (and muffins) we generally turn to brown, mature bananas. Sweeter and smoother than their greenish-yellow, unripened counterparts, over-ripe bananas are perfect for baking recipes. The food science secret behind browning bananas? A process called enzymatic browning. An enzyme like polyphenol oxidase (PPO) catalyzes oxidation, eventually turning the fruit brown. Most of the time, producers prefer to delay the enzymatic browning process and preserve the quality of a perfectly-ripe fruit as long as possible – after all, most of us use color as the primary indication of produce quality. Thus, factors like temperature, pH, and exposure to oxygen (all catalysts of the browning reaction) are carefully monitored on a commercial scale when bananas and other fruits are transported and stored.

However, if you’re in need of a banana ripe for baking, toss your yellow fruit in a paper bag and store it in a warm place. The bag serves a few purposes that expedite enzymatic browning: oxygen permeates the paper, and the bag traps ethylene gas that the banana releases during ripening. In no time, you’ll be enjoying my hubster’s new favorite banana nut muffins.

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