Quick Bread

This Unexpected Ingredient Is the Key to a Better Banana Bread

As if we needed another reason to love it.

February  1, 2019
Banana bread gets a savory upgrade. Photo by Rocky Luten

Miso is in vogue. From Nobu’s famous miso-marinated black cod, to fancy restaurant sauces and glazes, to miso caramel apples, no longer is Japan's funky fermented soybean paste confined to the realm of soups. At home, I’m often to blame for spiking my family’s meals with a much-too-liberal dose of miso. To date, I’ve managed to work my trusty tub of miso paste into marinades, salad dressings, mushroom pastas, and most recently, banana bread.

Yes, you heard right.

At first it might sound like an odd mix (miso in cakes and sweets), but if you think about it, salty, savory ingredients have an important, though often understated, role in desserts. A zing of salinity brings about some much needed balance to desserts, turning would-be cloying dishes into insanely addictive inventions. Think salty-sweet dulce de leche, sea salt and chocolate, and that savory hit of coconut milk in many of my favorite kuihs (bite-sized desserts from my home country of Malaysia). Using miso in desserts, then, would have a similar effect. Only on top of the usual kick of salt, miso lends a punchy dose of umami too, imparting yet another layer of flavor to cakes and desserts. Miso in banana bread is no exception.

Sure, the humble banana bread is a classic in its own right. It’s loved for its rustic simplicity; all you really need to do is mash up some bananas, throw them into a mixer with a few baking staples—flour, eggs, sugar, baking soda for some leavening—pop it in the oven, and you’re set. But the addition of miso elevates this classic cake into an acme of umami-sweet decadence—without much extra work at all. (You just add it to the batter with everything else.)

The miso brings so much robust, funky depth to the banana bread, the savoriness playing off well against the fruity tropical fragrance of the bananas. It's that little somethin' somethin' you can’t quite put your finger on... It's on the tip of your tongue...

Think salty-sweet dulce de leche, sea salt and chocolate, and that savory hit of coconut milk in many of my favorite kuihs (bite-sized desserts from my home country of Malaysia).

This isn’t a novel idea. I took inspiration from a recipe by Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer, two James Beard Award–winning Bostonian chef-icons, and adapted their idea into another banana bread recipe that I’ve been using for some time now, one I picked up from a restaurant-bakery I used to work at in Kuala Lumpur. All I did was worked some miso into the base batter and balanced out the sweetness with some extra vanilla and sugar, and in no time at all, my kitchen was filled with the glorious, umami-tinged scent of caramelizing bananas and browning cake crust.

I have to warn you, though: The first time I made this, I ended up having to bake another the very next day—as the first was devoured that afternoon.

How do you make your banana bread? Let us know in the comments below.

1 Comment

claire February 4, 2019
I make my Banana bread with coconut milk and dark chocolate chunks. The coconut milk gives it a smooth, moist texture.