Just look at this one-ingredient banana "ice cream"

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Everybody's favorite fruit has a secret. When you freeze it, and then stick it in a food processor, a banana will whip up into a texture not unlike soft-serve ice cream.

I just made up a version of this that added a little honey and peanut butter to the basic frozen banana cream. Not everybody will dig this—my husband, for instance, wasn't a fan—but I loved it. Plus, it's such a great summer solution for vegans. (And for lazy ominvores who want a quick dessert with little work.)

My curiosity now: Why frozen bananas turn out so creamy when you beat them senseless. The Kitchn blog says it has to do with the very small amount of fat in the banana, and that makes sense. But I haven't been able to find a source to verify it. Chemistry people and food scientists, weigh in!

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  1. i’m normally not one for bananas but this does sound delicious. i can imagine maple syrup being added would be pretty delicious too :) thanks for the share Maggie!

  2. I have no chemistry knowledge to contribute. But I am a vegan, and I often make desserts like this using one or more of these frozen ingredients:

    * mango
    * banana
    * strawberries

    and the like. Frozen coconut or almond or soy “milks” in ice cube trays blended with stuff like peanut butter, cacao nibs, and honey (or agave or dates for vegans who believe honey isn’t vegan) work great too. You can omit sweetener or minimize it for diabetics.

    Part of what determines success for me has also been using a kick-ass blender. Vita-Mix rules.

    1. We’ve found that if you make with banana only, blenders don’t work. You need a food processor to get the the soft serve feel,(we’ve also seen heavy duty juicers work).

      Also, peel and cut up the banana before you freeze.

  3. I’d guess it also has something to do with the rather large amount of starch in bananas. You can do similar things with potatoes. Although spud ice cream recipes still usually include some cream and sugar. Attack all that starch with a food processor/ice cream beater and it tends to thicken and get gooey for lack of a better term. The potato ice cream specifically is intended to be very elastic and stretchy (there are similar french recipes for mashed potatoes that focus on sticky/stretchy as the goal). That’s probably how it works with bananas as well, but less starch so less gooey.

    1. You can make a good prank “ice cream” for your little nieces and nephews out of mashed potatoes and food coloring. It’s almost as much fun as caramel “apples” made from caramel covered onions.

  4. Perhaps they contain resistant starch – like potatoes and beans – which act as a thickener too?

  5. Just be careful not to burn out your blender. I’ve gone through two making this. But it’s so good it’s still worth it.

  6. Xeni is right on, about the possible ingredients and about the omnipotence of the Vitamix.

  7. I do know that actual ice cream works by isolating all the little bits of ice inside fat. I’d have thought you’d need a bunch of fat before you noticed the difference.

    The gloopiness in banana-based sorbets I’ve tried would seem to support ryuthrowsstuff’s explanation. It would work like a starch-based egg substitute – at the very least it would be good for capturing a whole lot of little air bubbles into the mix, which would keep things fluffy as it froze.

    Hmm… banana-based mousse?

    1. [quote]The gloopiness in banana-based sorbets I’ve tried would seem to support ryuthrowsstuff’s explanation. It would work like a starch-based egg substitute – at the very least it would be good for capturing a whole lot of little air bubbles into the mix, which would keep things fluffy as it froze.[/quote]

      A common vegan substitution for eggs in baking recipes is, in fact, mashed banana.

  8. this is truly a wonderful thing.
    if anyone stumbles across an old-skool Champion Juicer, they further enhance the soft-serviness by splorching the banana whip (which is what i always heard them called) out the nozzle.

    bonus: it is entirely acceptable to eat banana whips for breakfast, whenever you want.

  9. Yup, frozen bananas blend nicely, I used use them as the basis for protein shakes when I was really carefully controlling my diet and working out heavily, they work great on the taste and texture front.

  10. Is this the convergence of Boing Boing and Spark People? They just made this the recipe of the day on 7/19 though they didn’t seek the explanation you do. I tried it and think for me it is a way to eat way too many bananas at a sitting and it turns the banana into a calorie vector bringing with it lots of delicious sauces.

  11. I was about to pull Cory’s man-card and, well, use it to buy some bananas. Sounds good Maggie. Maybe the nanner has less relative water to fiber content as well?

  12. This is not easy. Think of iceCREAM where water crystals, fat and air bubbles in the right combination are producing what we know as culinary sensation. So it is NOT the absence of fat. And it is not simple thickening either, a simple gel is NOT creamy. Creaminess arises from microscopically small parts that can move against each other. While most creams are emulsions (or inverse emulsions), this is not the only criterion – milk is the most known emulsion, but it is not a cream it is liquid-like. Absence of fat just means less calories but also less taste as fat is a carrier of taste substances. So, don’t worry about the technology aspect – enjoy.

  13. I suspect that “starch” is a bit too simplistic an answer.

    More likely, it’s the complex non-starch polysaccharides that give the room-temperature banana its slightly slimy feel, and that make for the “ice cream” mouthfeel when frozen.

  14. I’m too impatient to freeze some bananas, but I happen to have some left over liquid nitrogen on hand and the banana-only recipe does indeed work. I threw a couple of bananas in the blender, put it on the lowest setting, and slowly poured in the liquid nitrogen.

    I wouldn’t recommend this technique, though. The heavy glass of the blender gets cold fast and the banana gunk freezes and sticks to it.

    The texture is OK, but it still tastes like cold bananas to me – kind of bland.

  15. From a physics point of view, it makes sense that blending causes many small irregular solid objects which settle with many air pockets at a high air pocket to partical ratio, then when melting occurs the liquidity of the substance would capture these air pockets, forming a soft serve like texture.

  16. Slice Bananas into scallop like slices and top with sugar.

    Use a blow torch to melt the sugar and create a ‘creme brulee’ crust–melting the sugar into a hard shell.

    Serve with ice creme or a fruit sorbet.

  17. I’ve never done this, but I am an avid baker, and the most delicious banana break recipe I’ve made involves whipping the bananas (with the sugar) for something like 5 minutes at high speed. Basically, turn the Kitchen-Aid on, go have a coffee, come back, add flour, etc.

    It’s SIGNIFICANTLY better than not whipping the bananas, and the texture is divine.

    Whipped bananas FTW, frozen or baked.

  18. It’s definitely the snot-like polysaccharides, IMO. There’s plenty of polysaccharide stabilizers in real ice cream, and their job is to promote air bubbles, and thus good mouth feel and easy flavor release.

  19. Anyone who has kids will recognize this texture as baby food bananas.

    You can do a pretty good approximation by just working the banana pretty good in the skin, then poking a little hole in the skin and squirting away.

  20. Its blueberry season in BC and we just love combining them with our never ending banana stash in the freezer.
    We use a Braun hand blender for out treats.

  21. pretty sure the ice-creamy creaminess is not just the fat content but the fact it is frozen and emulsified. i don’t think it takes much fat to create this effect and soya lecithin does the trick just fine, and in fact go look at your icecream packs, pretty sure you’ll find the code for soya lecithin on the ingredients list. as for how this happens with bananas? they are full of potassium and phosphorus. potassium, i should say ‘potassium hydroxide and carbonate’ is a very potent emulsifier. add a small amount of vegetable protein and you’ve got way sufficient explanation for the lovely texture.

    and banana ‘ice cream’ is gonna be 100x as healthy as any cow lactation based product can be.

    just as an aside, the lovely creamy texture of yoghurt is not from the fats either. it’s from the denatured proteins. i’m pretty sure that some kinds of food acids can produce the same lovely texture. also, gelati – it gets its equally delicious texture from proteins. in fact, to go a bit further, very few ‘icy pole’ type ice blocks don’t have some kind of vegetable gum in them. vegetable gums are always sticky proteins.

  22. BC’s also got soapberries and I had them in Bella Coola once, blended up with sugar and served in an ice cream cone. No need for a commercial blender, either and you can make it into ‘ice cream’ in the palm of your hands. The berries contain saponin – a surfactant, and can be used as an environmentally-friendly detergent.

    Great article here:

    http://www.juneauempire.com/stories/060808/loc_288002266.shtml

  23. I come from a banana growing island and I’ve always imitated my dad in the Summer. You just peel a banana, wrap it in saran wrap and throw it in the freezer for 2 hours… tum-tum-chA! Banana popsicle…

  24. 30 posts in a thread about frozen bananas without an Arrested Development reference is 30 posts too far.

  25. there’s actually an awesome stand on the boardwalk in ocean city, nj that sells what they call Banana Whip. frozen banana shoved through a champion juicer and topped with whatever topping you could want… coconut, chocolate chips, etc.

  26. This is because bananas contain a rainbow (hence their shape) and the food processor chops it into a succession of double-rainbows until the magical consistency of soft-serve is achieved.

  27. Someone mentioned the Champion juicer. This is what we use regularly to make the *best* frozen banana ice cream ever! Just run a bunch of frozen bananas through to make the base, then run a bunch of other frozen fruits through for the flavoring (we often use raspberries and/or strawberries). Then mix it all together for a super-healthy, super-tasty anytime raw vegan treat. (Sweeteners optional.)

    BTW, @Trotsky (“Fuck me! That blender is $400!”): True, the Vita-Mix blender costs a fortune. But, it’s a real *workhorse*. I’ve had one for 10+ years & have used it almost daily, quiet often for thick and/or frozen concoctions that would *quickly* burn up the motors on lesser models. They’re absolutely worth the investment if you’re a blending fanatic like me. :-)

  28. I recently tried an experiment similar to this. I’ve been on an ice cream making kick, so I started with Cook’s Illustrated Vanilla Ice Cream recipe, which has significantly less egg yolks than Alton Brown’s (to it’s detriment I think). While the vanilla ice cream was churning I added the thawed banana gloop and then some heated up peanut butter (just to the point of easy flow). Result: the end result, Peanut Butter Banana Ice Cream. is an odd duck. It’s tasty but freezes to really hard texture. I also think that flavors in ice cream like this are better when they are separated so you get tastes of vanilla in part of a bite, banana in another, then peanut butter. Instead all of the flavors are basically together, so I don’t think it’s as good as it could be. Add a touch of salt and it gets really good.

  29. I make smoothies almost every morning for breakfast, with frozen fruit, non-dairy milk/s, and a fresh banana (also hemp protein and flax). When I don’t have bananas, it’s far less creamy. Unless I throw in a half an avocado – then it’s extremely creamy but less sweet, and so it needs honey or agave syrup.

    I’m going to try this, though – especially the peanut butter and honey version. Yum!

  30. We tried this on a family vacation, and my brother, who’s a waiter at Craft in Dallas, mentioned it to their pastry chef. He just called me to let me know that she tried it, loved it, and it’s now on their menu as a pre-dessert.

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