By Tommy Werner, Epicurious
In the case of bananas, green never means “go ahead.” You want your bananas perfectly ripe before you eat them, with just the right amount of natural sweetness, a bright yellow color, and a firm (but not too firm) bite. But all too often, bananas turn to mush before you even get a chance to try a bite—or stay green for way too long.
What you need is a surefire method to control the ripening of your bananas, whether you need them to turn super-ripe right this second, in a few days, or in a week. Turns out, the speed your bananas ripen at depends on where you store them. Bananas are a “climacteric” fruit, which means they’re harvested when green and continue to ripen based on their surrounding climate (AKA your kitchen). So the speed at which a banana’s starch converts to sugar largely depends on the temperature of the place you store them.
So, being the residential banana-phile on the Epicurious team, I decided to scatter green, unripe bananas in every possible nook and cranny of my apartment to discover which places would ripen bananas fastest—or slowest. (And yes, my roommates were very confused by my behavior.) After a week of observation, here’s what I found.
INSTANT GRATIFICATION: USE THE OVEN
The fastest way to ripen bananas? Throw them in the oven. The low heat of a 250°F oven accelerates the ripening, turning them sweet and almost pudding-like in a mere 15-20 minutes. There’s just one catch: This method turns the peels an unappetizing black color. That’s great for making the ultimate banana bread, but the bananas were too mushy and cloyingly sweet to provide textural contrast you’d want for a banana cream pie like this one. (By the way, the opposite temperature extreme works for flash-ripening, too: Bananas turn black and fully ripe in a few hours in the freezer.)
THREE DAYS TO RIPENESS: OVER THE FRIDGE
Apart from the bananas ripened with appliances (like the freezer or oven), the bananas on top of my refrigerator and kitchen cabinets ripened into snacking status the fastest. After four days, they were the first to show brown speckles and continued to outripen all the other tested fruit. While the other tested bananas were still losing their green streaks, these bananas turned mushy on the inside while the peels took on a leathery appearance.
Why did these ripen so quickly? The refrigerator exudes plenty of warmth, and as anyone who’s opened an oven knows, a kitchen’s hot air rises, reaching spaces like the tops of cabinets. And if you keep on ripening them for a full week, they turn full-flavored and pungent, just right for mashing into a bread pudding.
FIVE DAYS TO RIPENESS: ON THE COUNTER (OR UNDER THE BED!)
The countertop proved to be a nice middle ground for banana ripening—the temperature is cooler than the top of the fridge, so bananas ripened out of their bags at a slower, more measured pace. On a whim, I also tried ripening bananas under my bed. Turns out, the dark, cool zone under my bedframe also ripened the fruit at the same pace as the countertop. Science! Even better news: Five days gives you plenty of time to gather ingredients for this amazing caramelized banana split sundae.
SIX DAYS TO RIPENESS: IN THE BAG, ON THE COUNTER
The biggest surprise of the experiment? Keeping the bananas in their plastic bags on the countertop was actually the slowest way to ripen them. So if you want your bananas to stick around for awhile before turning brown, resist the urge to take them out of their wrapper. They’ll stay firmer longer, giving you time to make these portable (and chocolate-dipped) chocolate banana bites.
More from Epicurious:
PHOTOS BY CHELSEA KYLE, FOOD STYLING BY TOMMY WERNER