Banana liqueurs (crème de banane)
Words by Simon Difford
Photography by Dan Malpass
Banana flavoured liqueurs, which French producers call crème de banana, are based on neutral alcohol (usually sugar beet based) flavoured with a flavour extract made from both a distillation and infusion of bananas, and sweetened with sugar (typically 400 to 450g/l).
Fresh bananas are almost impossible to juice and produce a baby food-like texture when muddled, hence most cocktails using fresh bananas tend to be blended. However, the flavour bananas, unless overripe, imparts to a cocktail tends to be disappointing, so even when using fresh banana it's common to also add banana flavoured sugar syrup or banana liqueur. The easiest way to add a rich tropical banana flavour to cocktails is to use a liqueur.
Most of brands of range-liqueurs produce a banana liqueur, each fitting on a flavour scale somewhere between decadent dessert and drier, more spirituous, liqueurs. Some have a clean confected ripe banana flavour whereas others have a freshly roasted and mashed banana flavour, sometimes with gentle spice. Others producers distinguish themselves with a green banana liqueur, also green in colour, rather than the more usual canary yellow. It is also common for banana liqueurs to also be subtly flavoured with vanilla and extracts of herbs and spices.
Alternatively, you can make your own banana liqueur, using fresh bananas, sugar and rum or vodka. Different style sugars will affect your liqueur, so it's worth testing recipes with raw sugar and white sugar.