No really, it's bananas. This might sound like a riddle, but it's actually a wonder of food science -- specifically fruit science.
Making one-ingredient ice cream is as simple as this: Cut up bananas. Freeze them. Whir them in a food processor. Eat quickly, or refreeze and blend again. You don't really need a recipe for this.
It comes out like the frozen bananas you ate at the boardwalk as a kid, except it whips up like Marshmallow Fluff, instead of the gluey puree you might be picturing.
Vegan and raw foodists have long known this trick, but a few years ago, The Kitchn published a photo tutorial and one-ingredient ice cream went mainstream. Bloggers spread the gospel and suddenly it wasn't just a workaround for ice cream, but an exciting dessert in its own right, regardless of its pure reputation.
Now there's even a machine built specifically for making banana ice cream, and one of the most talked about stands at Brooklyn's Smorgasburg sells only raw banana ice cream, plus toppings -- they're called Rob & Anna's (say it out loud!).
But what no one's dug into yet is this: How do the bananas do this? Why doesn't a frozen avocado or mango or pint of berries behave this way under the crush of the food processor's blade? (And they don't, trust me.)
The internet and various food science manuals didn't have the banana-as-ice-cream coverage I was hoping they would, so I wrote to Nathan Myhrvold, author of Modernist Cuisine and the forthcoming Modernist Cuisine at Home (which we're thrilled to be offering in the FOOD52 Shop at an exclusive discount October 8th!).
"I am pretty sure the reason is that bananas are very high in pectin." Myhrvold wrote. "So much so that if you add them to strawberry jam, you can omit the pectin you would otherwise need to add."
Pectin lives in the walls of plant cells, just waiting to bond together to form sturdy gels. Its most notable achievements are in jams and jellies, but it even works behind the scenes in this creamy vegan cauliflower soup.
Here, as the blades slice through the frozen bananas, pectin chains form and the banana churns up into the spitting image of soft serve ice cream, with the most intense banana flavor this side of Chunky Monkey.
According to Myhrvold, exploiting pectin this way can work for mango after all, making an ultrastable mousse that won't even melt at room temperature -- if you own a Pacojet.
But until one of you fine people donates your Pacojet to the FOOD52 test kitchen, we're sticking with our one-ingredient food processor treat, and lots of it.
Check back tomorrow, when our New Veganism columnist Gena Hamshaw will show you what else one-ingredient ice cream can do.
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom
The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."