If there’s a verb conjugation representative of this current pandemic, it is surely: I have eaten banana bread; I am eating banana bread; I will be eating banana bread.
According to scholarly research and anecdotal reports, banana bread consumption is at an all-time high, with the dessert figuring into every state’s most frequent Google recipe search since the beginning of March. Media coverage of the quarantine trend has focused on the suitability of the dish to stay-at-home times since banana bread is comforting, caloric and easy to make.
What those analyses ignore, though, is that plenty of other sweets fit the same description. Americans could just as easily have gone gaga for sheet cake or snickerdoodles. Additionally, banana bread has long been known as a treat of last resort. Baking banana bread is an admission of making a mistake in the produce aisle.
So why, after more than a month of grocery shopping under coronavirus restrictions, are people still buying too many bananas?
At this point, it appears people may be purchasing bananas for the express purpose of mashing them up with brown sugar and butter, perhaps because they’ve been seduced by banana bread images on social media.
To steal a figure of speech from the pandemic’s other significant kitchen trend, sourdough bread, the madness is feeding itself.
It’s of course possible that a percentage of shoppers tallying up bananas have more healthful intentions for their bunches. Bananas are cheap and require less delicate care than, say, a white nectarine.
“I think people buy a large bunch and then decrease their number of (supermarket) visits, so the bananas ripen and there you are: Banana bread, banana muffins, banana smoothies,” says Leah McGrath, dietician for Ingles, a grocery chain based in Asheville.
If Americans were making aspirational produce choices, it would stand to reason that they were also filling their refrigerators with antioxidant-rich blueberries and fiber-packed asparagus. Yet according to a new study by Nielsen, even though 54 percent of Americans say they’re eating at home more often than before COVID-19, fresh blueberry sales are up just 5 percent year-to-date. Fresh asparagus sales are a mere 3 percent past where they stood in 2019.
And it’s not just berries and asparagus which are being overlooked when people shop a store’s perimeter. Overall, fresh fruit sales have increased 5 percent across the United States.
By contrast, nutrition-minded supermarket shoppers are besotted with fruits and vegetables designed to last. Purchases of frozen, canned and bottled fruit grew at three to five times the rate of fresh food, Nielsen found.
For example, year-to-date sales of fresh pineapple have fallen off 3 percent. But canned pineapple sales have increased by 29 percent, and frozen pineapple sales are up 39 percent.
Granted, a whole pineapple can’t be peeled like a banana. But banana sales are still exceptional when compared to an equally approachable fresh fruit, such as a peach. While peach sales are up 1 percent, banana sales are up 12 percent, Nielsen’s Greg Doonan says.
That finding is consistent with patterns at Publix, spokeswoman Maria Brous says.
“We have seen a double-digit increase in banana sales over the past several weeks,” she confirms, adding that the banana supply has held steady, without any shortages forecast.
Despite the banana bread mania, Brous says Publix won’t sell an overripe banana. But buyers know they just have to wait a few days for their fresh fruit to go bad. Or, as home bakers might put it, go bread.