It’s been nearly 20 years, but Shelley Albeluhn remembers the day in 2000 when she decided to mash an additional three very ripe bananas into the batter of her very first banana bread.
At the time, she hoped the on-the-fly tweak would yield a tender loaf with a sweet and deeply intense banana flavour.
Little did she know her creation — which baked up beautifully and received rave reviews from friends and family — would soon become a worldwide banana bread sensation.
Albeluhn, who lives in Port Hardy on the east coast of Vancouver Island, is the creator of Banana Banana Bread on Allrecipes.com, the much-loved website that collects recipes submitted by home cooks.
Since she posted the recipe in 2000, Banana Banana Bread has been viewed more than 35 million times and is Allrecipes’ second-most popular recipe of all time. In 2018 alone, it clocked more than 4 million views.
“This literally could be the most-viewed banana bread recipe in the world,” says Esmee Williams, vice-president of consumer insights at Seattle-based Allrecipes. She believes Albeluhn is the only Canadian to have a recipe crack the website’s all-time top 10 list.
“For a long time, it was the only recipe that came up when you Googled banana bread and for many years it was the number one recipe on our site. Shelley was definitely ahead of her time.”
Albeluhn, 53, never set out to change the global online trajectory of banana bread.
“I can’t believe this,” she says, after a Star journalist tells her of the enduring popularity of her Banana Banana Bread. “That many millions of people have seen my recipe? That’s amazing. It’s just a recipe.
“But I guess sometimes there is nothing better or more simple in life than making a really good banana bread.”
Albeluhn doesn’t remember the origin of the recipe she adapted into the now legendary Banana Banana Bread, which calls for 2 1/3 cups of mashed, overripe bananas. That’s the equivalent of five or six bananas; many banana bread recipes use just two or three.
“I winged it, really,” she says. “I remember thinking: ‘Let’s see how banana-y we can get this, so let’s put in another banana, and then another and another.’ ”
Albeluhn also recalls that she swapped brown sugar for white sugar, and replaced oil with butter.
It turned out so well she decided to post her adapted recipe online to Allrecipes.
At the time, Albeluhn was living in Port Alice, a village on Vancouver Island that, in 2000, had a population of about 1,200, many of whom were supported by the local pulp mill, which has since closed.
That Albeluhn had internet access in such a small town nearly 20 years ago is just one of the curious things about the ongoing viral popularity of her recipe, says Anatoliy Gruzd, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management with expertise in social media.
“It’s also interesting that something posted so long ago is still alive on the web — and still popular,” he adds, noting that Allrecipes has found a way to stay relevant even though it launched in 1997, whereas some other websites of its generation have gone extinct. “Think of something like (the social network) MySpace.”
“It also shows you that, in some cases, things that are posted many years ago can still be viral now. Modern forms of social media favour real-time trending stories. If something trended yesterday, it’s considered too old and we move on.”
Gruzd says that while Albeluhn’s recipe probably tastes good (he hasn’t tried it), its popularity is more likely due to Albeluhn’s impeccable timing: she posted the recipe on Allrecipes at just the right moment to ride the wave of the website’s overall success.
Williams, who has worked at Allrecipes since shortly after its launch, says the website’s appeal has always been that it caters to home cooks, many of whom gravitate toward recipes that are simple and timeless, just like Albeluhn’s banana bread.
In Canada, Good Old Fashioned Pancakes, submitted by Dakota Kelly, has remained the most popular recipe for years, netting more than 1.65 million page views here last year. It’s not clear whether Kelly herself is Canadian — Allrecipes doesn’t generally track users’ locations.
Williams says this kind of cooking is something that has not gone out of style, even amid the increasing online presence of celebrity chefs, sophisticated food bloggers and the meteoric rise of impeccably styled foods suitable for Pinterest and Instagram.
“There aren’t that many places where home cooks have a voice online,” she says, adding that the millions of recipe reviews submitted by Allrecipes users help build trust in the website. “Before you ever turn on the oven or the stove, you know exactly how a recipe will turn out. You’ll know whether it’s a kid-pleaser, or whether your husband might like it, whether it will be a hit at a potluck, and how you can alter the recipe to suit your tastes.”
More than 10,000 people have reviewed Banana Banana Bread on Allrecipes and it has a 4.5 (out of 5) star rating.
Albeluhn, who peeks at the reviews from time to time, is thrilled her beloved recipe has touched so many lives.
Not just because she believes her version, with its deep banana-y flavour, is one of the best banana bread recipes around, but also because she hasn’t tasted it since 2001.
Dietary restrictions for health reasons mean she has had to forgo the treat. But she remembers exactly how it tastes and the best way to eat it.
“It’s wonderful toasted,” she says. “Take a slice and put it in the toaster oven so that it gets a bit golden brown on the outside. It will still be soft on the inside, and when it’s warmed up, you get that nice, buttery flavour. It’s just so good.”
Albeluhn hopes that Banana Banana Bread continues to find its way into kitchens around the world. It’s OK, she says, for people to try it with nuts or chocolate chips, make it into muffins or serve it in restaurants, or tweak the recipe to suit individual tastes, just as she did nearly 20 years ago.
But there is one element that she insists must remain to ensure the treat is truly Banana Banana Bread: “You must make it with very ripe bananas that are dark brown, very soft and with very little or no yellow. That is key; I wish I had written very overripe bananas in my original recipe. It’s the only way you get that super strong banana flavour.”