When thinking of fruits that would make for a good mead, chances are that ‘bananas’ are not near the top of your list. Giving their natural sweetness and thick consistency, it’s pretty rare to find them as a part of any alcoholic beverage – let alone a ‘banana mead’. Is it even possible? Can bananas even ferment into alcohol?
The answer to the latter is ‘yes’. As to the former – let’s find out…
Can You Ferment Bananas Into Alcohol?
As we just established, bananas can indeed be fermented into alcohol. Banana-based alcoholic beverages are popular in Africa, and include beers, spirits, and even wines. Banana beer has a long tradition in Central and East African countries such as the Central African Republic and Rwanda, and in Uganda an alcoholic beverage named ‘tonto’ (no relation to The Lone Ranger) is produced from green bananas.
Banana is quite difficult to work with, however, and the aforementioned tonto is losing popularity due to the lengthy and time-consuming process required to produce a batch.
Elsewhere, Netherlands-based brewing company Mongozo produces a banana beer, though it’s unclear whether the beer is fermented from bananas, or if the bananas are an addition to the finished beer.
There are also a number of banana liqueurs on the market, but let’s be honest – liqueurs are cheating.
Does Banana Wine Taste Like Banana?
Generally, banana wine does not taste overwhelmingly of bananas. It tastes and smells sweet, with a gentle fruity flavour that cannot easily be attributed to bananas.
That said, if banana wine is left to age for a long time, the aroma and taste of bananas can creep back in and become noticeable to experienced wine aficionados.
Can You Put Bananas in Mead?
It is possible to make a banana mead, although many find it more difficult than both standard and other fruit-based meads. The reason for this is that bananas are extremely thick, and it is not easy to produce juice from them (when was the last time you saw ‘banana juice’ in the fruit-juice section?).
It’s quite common for brewers making banana wine or banana mead not to ferment the must along with the actual fruit, due to its thick consistency. Let’s take a look at how banana mead can be made…
How Do You Make Banana Mead?
There are three ways to make banana mead: the straightforward way, the sorghum way and the bochet.
‘Traditional’ Banana Mead
Clocking in at a respectable 2 months from start to finish, this banana mead is straightforward and simple, making the most of overripe bananas to give the finished product a complex, fruity finish.
The overripe bananas are chopped up (but not peeled) and boiled along with a teabag; the resultant liquid is then strained off into a carboy. Honey, yeast nutrients and peltic enzymes are added in preparation for the next phase.
Yeast is added, and the mixture is then left to ferment for around a week before being racked. At this stage you can check if it’s sweet enough; if not, add sugar to taste.
After a month or two in secondary fermentation, your mead will be ready to bottle. Be sure to siphon slowly into your bottles to ensure that lees are not transferred into the bottles. Age for as long as you like – remember that the more mature your banana mead, the better it is likely to taste!
The Sorghum Method
Based on traditional East African methods for making banana wine, this banana mead relies on two things – acid sanitiser and sorghum honey, which is used in the distillation of many kinds of alcohol, and is used in countries like Rwanda to make banana beer.
Because the bananas are sanitised (with an acid sanitiser like star san, for instance), they can be left to ripen for much longer without going bad. This leads to a much fuller flavour down the line.
After being left to ripen for around a week, the bananas are mashed (skins and all) and Sorghum honey, yeast nutrients, and yeast added. This sort of must will get very dry and sour if not monitored, and extra honey (in addition to some maple syrup) must be added after around a week.
Following fermentation, the mixture must be cold-crashed and then filtered into another carboy. If not clear, it must be cold-crashed again.
The Sorghum Method requires a little more attention to detail and care than the straightforward one, but it’s worth it for a banana mead that makes best use of East African traditions and produces a fine-tasting mead!
A medieval method of mead-making that was lost for around 600 years, the recipe for brochet was rediscovered in 2009 after receiving its first translation into English.
Bochet’s secret (and a large part of its appeal) is that it uses caramelised – rather than raw – honey. That’s not the least of its draw, however – bochet made back in the pre-industrial 14th century was, shall we say, a little more artisanal than we’re used to, and would often have beeswax and the odd crushed bee in the mix. While this might sound disgusting, these extra components actually added to the overall flavour in the end.
Bochet is perfect for banana mead, if not a little dangerous to make. Honey can expand to up to four times its original volume while being boiled, and getting boiling honey on your skin is not a fun experience.
Making bochet is not a million miles away from making normal mead, with the exception of a few ingredients and, crucially, caramelising your honey. As always, it’s important that the bananas are overripe and have their skins left on; putting them in a muslin/cheesecloth sack or something similar so that the mash doesn’t get mixed in with your must is, if you’ll forgive the pun, a must.
Banana mead is not your grandfather’s mead (or, indeed, anyone’s) but it is a unique challenge that will yield you a very unique beverage – particularly if you’re extremely brave and opt for banana brochet! Whichever variety you opt for, however, you’ll be in for an experience like no other.