Why Everyone is Going Bananas for Banana Bread!
By Annette Willett
Associate Occupational Therapist at the Purple House Clinic, Loughborough
Why has the nation so passionately reignited its love for this yummy loaf during lockdown?
Is it just that it tastes so good? Have we all accumulated mountains of bananas? Or do we all now fancy ourselves as future Bake Off winners in this time of unprecedented domesticity.
An Occupational Therapist may well have the answers!
Banana bread first became a standard feature of American cookbooks with the popularisation of baking soda and baking powder in the 1930s. It appeared in Pillsbury's 1933 ‘Balanced Recipes’ cookbook, and later gained more acceptance with the release of the original Chiquita Banana's Recipe Book in 1950.
The Recent Rise
In the UK we now have recipes from Jamie Oliver, Mary Berry, Nigella and of course Delia Smith. My favourite recipe is Nigel Slater’s ‘Black banana cake’ which contains chocolate....and it is VERY good! GBBO’s Selasi even brought the humble banana bread to our screens not so very long ago.
You can make it if you are a vegan or gluten intolerant - it’s so versatile! And this may well explain why it’s become the staple bake during lockdown. An added bonus is the flexibility to use basic store cupboard ingredients - the riper the banana the better (which, in these frugal times, is a great way to use up leftover fruit and reduce waste!).
But what does it actually do for us? There must be something about baking that serves us so well in times of crisis...
‘Activity Analysis’ is a scientific approach that enables Occupational Therapists to gain a deep understanding of a particular activity - such as baking banana bread!
This process breaks down an activity into steps and detailed subparts so that others could be instructed to complete the same activity (e.g. methodology, equipment, materials, cost, time, personnel etc.). By analysing activity in this way, Occupational Therapists can learn when, where, for whom and under what circumstances the use of the activity might be therapeutic.
Let’s delve deeper into banana bread (yes please!)...
Purposeful activities such as baking have both ‘means’ and ‘end’ benefits. The former are the skills required/gained by ‘doing’, and the latter refers to any functional gain from completing a meaningful and purposeful activity.
The ‘Means’ Benefits
- Motor Skills (from moving and interacting with tasks, objects & environment): We can improve our posture, strength and effort, and fine and gross motor skills e.g. we bend, stand, reach, lift, cut, pour and mix.
- Communication & Interaction (communication skills and coordination of social behaviour): Speech and language skills develop through information exchange via verbal and non-verbal communications e.g. we bake and work together, read recipes, use literacy skills, use computer skills, express/share thoughts and ideas.
- Mental Function (affective, cognitive and perceptual): Baking can enhance general and specific mental functions, and sensory functions such as motivation and impulse control e.g. don’t eat all the raw mixture! Baking can improve: attention; memory; emotion and perception; smells; touch; taste; movement; balance; hunger; linked emotions such as memories of baking with grandma; sequencing, time management; and problem solving.
- Emotional (so how do we feel about baking?): Baking can be fun & bring shared enjoyment. There’s the excitement of anticipating the outcome. It can help us recall pleasant memories of past times; develop mutual connections; be mood-lifting; provide structure; teach us to manage frustration; and so much more.
The 'End' Benefits
We all recognise that sense of achievement from baking a tasty cake or loaf! It gives us ‘role affirmation’ and/or knowledge of a new role or competency. It also lets us reflect on our skills if something didn’t go quite right. And we can usually work out why. Did we rush the measuring? Was the oven temperature perfect? Did we open the oven door early to sneak a look? Did we sufficiently grease the tin, etc. etc.
The great thing about baking is that no one usually gets hurt and it’ll probably taste good even if we have to add custard or dunk it in our cuppa! Furthermore, we can take positives by reviewing any failings so that we can put it right next time. This is a great life skill to acquire.
In addition, we can gain a sense of pride, and the satisfaction of providing for family or friends. Baking at home is also very economical and, by virtue of lessening the need to go to the shops, it can even help lower the risk of exposure to COVID at this time.
Of course, we're all acutely aware of our increasingly wasteful society - and every little helps. We can now feel rightly proud of ourselves that those overripe bananas, that were otherwise destined for the bin, have been given a tasty purpose.
And the ‘icing on the cake’, is the cake!. We have the yummy treat to eat, along with the kudos gained from friends and family (including the feedback you get from millions of Facebook ‘likes’ and ‘loves’). Got to love social media sometimes!
So it's clear that simple wholesome activities, such as baking Banana Bread, can be beneficial for mental well-being. Whilst nobody could claim that baking banana bread will solve all of our problems, such activities may help to give us a sense of normality, pride and purpose during difficult times.
So, the future is bright for home bakers. The old bread machine that’s been sitting in the shed for years has been well and truly dusted off - and many, including myself, are now baking bread on a daily basis.
Facilitating this craze, many small companies will now deliver larger quantities of flour and other baking ingredients. Families can be healthier, happier and more connected through home baking. Connection at these times is particularly poignant.
But let’s not wait for another lockdown to re-awaken this time served occupation in our own homes! So next time you decide to bake, remember it’s not just about the cake - it’s about SO much more!!
Inspiration & Resources: