That beautiful black-speckled banana in the photo above inspired us to write this tip. That, my friends, is a perfectly ripe banana, ready to be baked up into Banana Bread, Hummingbird Cake or whatever recipe you have on hand that will highlight the creamy, moist texture and sweet, tropical flavor of this favorite fruit of ours.
As you can see from the picture, bananas do continue to ripen after they are harvested. They are usually shipped to the market green so that they have longevity on the shelf, but at that point they are still mostly starch. As they ripen, the starch converts to sugar and their texture and flavor change, making them perfect for eating, slicing onto cereal or using in baked goods and desserts. That green banana in the picture will take at least 4 days to get to the yellow stage shown by the middle banana, so when you are at the grocery store, plan accordingly.
When baking with bananas, most recipes will tell you in the ingredient list which stage of ripeness is desirable. If the recipe says “very ripe,” then you want those black speckles with absolutely no hint of green; the banana could even be blacker and it would be perfect for this type of recipe, but it should be at least as ripe as shown. If the recipe says “firm but ripe,” then the yellow banana in the picture with no black speckles and a tiny bit of green at the tips would be perfect. This is the right level of ripeness for a sautéed banana dish like bananas Foster, banana pudding or for a banana split sundae. You will rarely see a recipe calling for a green banana. If a dish is looking for that kind of starchiness, it will most likely call for a plantain. By the way, if you find yourself needing a ripe banana for a recipe and your supermarket only has green ones, check smaller Asian markets if you have any nearby. We have great luck finding very ripe bananas on the shelf ready to bake.
As for storage, bananas should be stored at room temperature. If you end up with some very ripe bananas and you know you will be using them within two or three days, place them in the refrigerator to slow down further ripening. The skins will turn black but the flesh will be perfect for your uses. If the bananas are basically at their almost over-ripe stage, peel them and place them in a zipper top freezer bag. These will last in the freezer for at least a month and are perfect for smoothies or recipes that call for mashed bananas, like banana bread. Do not freeze with the skins on. You will be hard-pressed to peel those bananas!
Image: Peter Muka