Ripe Bananas for Baking: How Ripe Should Bananas Be?

Experienced bakers know that the best bananas for baking — you know, for banana muffins, banana bread, even banana cake — are very ripe bananas. But how dark, how ripe, should we let bananas go? In a happy accident, I've discovered what I call 'black bananas'. They streeeettttch the ripening time by many weeks and draw out even more of that luscious banana flavor that banana lovers crave. Bakers, prepare to exercise great, great patience before baking with bananas.

When Is a Ripe Banana Ripe Enough for Baking?

Don't even think about baking with a green (yellow) banana! Still not quite ripe enough Now! The brown-almost-black bananas are ready for baking!

Green bananas (as in 'unripe' bananas, which may have tinges of green but are often yellow) make for blah banana-baking. A banana must be really ripe — nearly all brown and even, if you want, well into 'black' — to yield luscious banana flavor in banana bread, banana cake and banana cookies.

This is how I've baked with bananas for years, waiting patiently for the bananas to ripen and their skins to darken while sitting out on the counter. Once the bananas are ripe, I move them to the freezer to hold for baking later.

But Wait!
Now There's the 'Black' Banana

Black Bananas vs Ripe Bananas

A few weeks ago, I had a half dozen very ripe bananas on the counter but no time nor inclination to bake. Instead of freezing the bananas, I slipped them into a plastic container and left them in the refrigerator, hoping the cold temperature would 'hold' the ripe bananas for baking later.

Weeks passed. Finally I opened the dish, expecting to discard the bananas. The skins were completely black and had begun to shrink. One had split open, spilling a pool of banana-goo into the bowl. Mustering courage, I tasted it. MY GOODNESS! It was like a banana syrup, dark and oh so sweet and full of banana flavor.

Another couple of weeks passed. I finally made banana muffins, using three 'black bananas' (shown in the photo, on the left side) and one 'very very ripe' banana (on the right side). Those banana muffins? Oh so good. So banana-y. So moist.

From now on, I'm moving very ripe bananas (skins washed) into the refrigerator for slow-slow-slow ripening. My best estimate is that 'black bananas' will spend four weeks on the counter, then eight or more weeks in the refrigerator.

My Favorite Recipes for Ripe Bananas

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Banana Oatmeal Cookies Banana Nut Cake with Caramel Frosting Cheery Cherry Banana Bread

© Copyright 2010 Kitchen Parade

I routinely buy the "ripe" bananas now - they're so much cheaper (about half the price at my store!), and I mainly use them in my smoothies with other fruits, so that sweet banana-y-ness is welcome anyway. I usually pop them in the freezer when they get to a certain point - last weekend, I forgot, and found a bowl of "banana juice" - that was the first time that ever happened to me! - so I made a batch of mini-banana breads. What a difference!
I just made Banana Avocado Bread- with my black bananas- check it out if you want..! I discovered the sweet intense flavor that the very very dark bananas have a while back and now that's the only way I use 'em when baking! Glad you're not letting your super ripe bananas go to waste :)
Our store bags about 12 to 15 ripe bananas and sells them for 15 cents a pound, so I usually come home with a bag or two when the offer that deal. They are usually just starting to blacken around the edges and are nice and sweet. The boys like them in smoothies, pancakes, ice cream, and of course baked goodies.
Those bananas look just like mine do when they come out of the freezer-I must wait until the right moment before "remembering" to pop them in the freezer.
This week for Teacher Appreciation I made 2 double batches of whole wheat banana PB choc chip muffins (from that Muffins cookbook made by classmates of our mothers, tweaking the recipe by subbing mini choc chips for the chopped peanuts and following your advice to halve the sugar). My kids gave bags of muffins to many specialists and aides and we got several compliments.
The classroom teachers got chocolate toffee Bundt cakes-my oven was humming by 5:30am many days this week.
I only use very ripe bananas for baking. When I leave them out too long, then see them on the counter, I think, oh goody, time to make banana bread. Or cake. Or muffins...
But at what point at they rotten? Seriously, if I had a banana that turned to banana goo in my fridge I'd be afraid of food poisoning!
Toy Lady ~ my main grocery stopped selling 'ripe' bananas at a lower price, darn. Glad you've seen the difference in 'banana goo' -- it's worth striving for!

Evan B ~ Good for you!

Andrea ~ Lucky you! But I'd let them ripen quite a lot (a LOT) longer, then you'll really see the power of 'black' bananas.

Kirsten ~ I think I'm going to skip the freezer from now on. The black bananas are so much better, still, that it's hard to have too many. Your kids and their teachers are very very lucky!

Stephanie ~ If you let them get this 'black', you won't want them on the counter. They LOOK seriously bad, but TASTE seriously good.

Marie ~ I've started putting individual bananas into small freezer bags into the banana container for the fridge. I DID have one go bad, it was really obvious from the smell. If the 'goo' tastes good, I just can't think you'd need to worry. Or if you do, well, maybe 'brown bananas' are your personal choice. :-)
I've been meaning to read this post. I tend to get scared if they get to the point of turning into goo, I'm afraid they get fermented? I'm going to try this and see if I can make some better banana stuff! Thanks!
I don't know if the flavor is quite a intense, but I definitely achieve the goo consistency by peeling brown bananas, chunking them up into a bag, and freezing them for a few days. The ice crystals that form inside help to break down the cell walls (Thank you, Alton Brown.) so that when it's thawed out, it's nice and creamy.

Not sure if it's as good as black bananas, but it's certainly less time consuming.
I don't know if the flavor is quite a intense, but I definitely achieve the goo consistency by peeling brown bananas, chunking them up into a bag, and freezing them for a few days. The ice crystals that form inside help to break down the cell walls (Thank you, Alton Brown.) so that when it's thawed out, it's nice and creamy.

Not sure if it's as good as black bananas, but it's certainly less time consuming.
Do you mean that you use the skins in your fridge-ripened bananas??
Debbie ~ A time or two, the bananas have definitely "turned" and just the taste/smell tell me that they've gone too far. THOSE get thrown away, instantly. But mostly, the "goo" is just sweet and syrupy, definitely banana-y.

Robin ~ Great tip, thanks for passing it along!

Anonymous ~ Oh no, the skins remain leathery and inedible. Once you'll try the black bananas, you'll see what I mean, you won't be tempted to eat them!
Bananas are really for cooking when they are leaking juice. When the bananas become too "brownish" to eat, I just unpeel them and pop them in a zip bag and wait until they start leaking juice and then I put them in the freezer. Good stuff for baking later.
A friend gave me three large bunches of very ripe (black) baby bananas. I don't smell any foul odors but several of them have begun to grow mold on the outside. I'm a little hesitant to taste them. What do you think? Anyone eaten moldy bananas?

Vicky ~ Mold only on the skins? So long as it hasn’t worked its way inside (and honestly, from my experience I’d think you’d know, I have had an occasional one go bad in the fridge) I think you’d be okay.

But if you’re worried, really, is it worth it? Bananas are cheap, buy some new ones!
I know that over-ripe bananas are great for cakes but i've noticed with the last couple of batches of bananas when the skins go black the banana flesh is really mushy inside as well as being very brown - this is after i've left them in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Do you think they are OK to use when they are mushy?

I have a few bananas on my counter that are beginning to blacken. I just peeled one and put it in a ziploc bag for freezing, and the inside has spots of really dark brown, which in the past I've always associated with being overly ripe and bad to eat. Should I throw that part away or is that part of the "black banana" that you are raving about it? Also, should I try to get out all the air in the bag before freezing?
Thank you!
Matilda ~ Hey, you still out there? Yikes, your question went unanswered, please accept my apology. re the “mushy” bananas, yes “black” bananas get really soft, almost syrupy. I use the “smell test” -- if they smell good, they’re good. If they don’t (and I have had this happen on occasion), they’re not.

CK ~ If your bananas are just beginning to blacken on the counter, they’re not even close to what I call “black bananas” -- this only happens with a very slow sweetening that happens in the cold of the refrigerator. If there are “spots” of brown, that’s likely bruising and yes, will spoil so I’d cut those pieces off. And yes, if you are peeling the bananas (I don’t, but then again, I’m not freezing them either) yes, you’ll want to remove all the air from the freezer bag and if it were me, I’d even double-bag them to prevent freezer burn. Good luck!

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