If someone asked you if you like Tokyo Banana, what would you say? Sounding equal parts lude, innocent, completely made up, and sort of like it could be the name of some designer drug doing the rounds, it’s hard to know exactly what to say without incriminating yourself.
It’s okay though, you can relax...it’s just a sweet treat.
So, now that you know whoever is asking you the question isn’t queuing up some awful joke at your expense, let’s discuss what they are exactly.
So, What Actually is a Tokyo Banana?
Tokyo Bananas are considered the official souvenir sweet of Tokyo. Produced by Grapestone Co, you can think of them like those candies in glass Eiffel Towers lining the gift shops in Paris or the trdelník you see baking over fires through the bakery windows of Prague.
First released in 1991, the Tokyo Banana has gained worldwide popularity in a relatively short amount of time, beating out many other more established souvenir sweets to become the quintessential Tokyo snack. A large part of their proliferation is down to the company incorporating Tokyo in the product name.
A simple invention at its heart, a Tokyo banana is a banana-shaped steamed sponge cake with a flavored creamy filling, vaguely similar in concept to an eclair.
Normally sold in gift boxes containing numerous bananas in individual plastic wrappers, they’re often likened to Twinkies; however, Tokyo Bananas tend to have much more of a fresh and rich flavor due to the filling being more creamy than sugary.
In light of this, Tokyo Bananas have a significantly shorter shelf life of seven days. In true Kawaii fashion, it’s common for the cake outer of Tokyo Bananas to feature cute decorative patterns such as flowers, hearts, or animals.
The original flavor, known as Tokyo Banana Miitsuketa, is a custard infused with strained, pureed banana, but from these humble beginnings, a multitude of flavors have been released.
Such is Tokyo Banana’s success that stores in airports and major cities all across Japan have been making room on their shelves for them as well.
Their airport pricing is roughly 950 yen a box, which translates to around $1.25 per Banana. These days, their annual sales are said to exceed 4 billion yen, and as their notoriety spreads, this figure will grow exponentially.
Unfortunately, the original Tokyo banana can only be enjoyed by omnivores and is not halal. Vegans can’t have it in the first place because of the dairy content, but as one of the listed ingredients is bovine gelatine, veggies can’t enjoy this whimsical snack either.
The banana pie and Castella cake editions, on the other hand, do not contain gelatin, making them suitable for vegetarians. They’re also liquor-free, meaning they’re completely halal.
Almost all Tokyo Banana sweets contain wheat and soy, so if you have gluten or soy intolerances, unfortunately, you’ll have to taste them vicariously through the descriptions of others.
Tokyo Bananas are an exceptionally moreish snack, but before you demolish that entire gift box of sweet, sweet banana cakes, let’s run over their nutritional content just to make sure it’s a good idea.
Each original Tokyo Banana contains 99 calories, 2.4g of protein, 2.9g of fat, 15.9g of carbohydrates, and 26mg of salt.
So, should you eat them all in one sitting? No, probably not. They’re best enjoyed as a little treat every other day or so.
What Other Flavors and Styles of Tokyo Banana Can You Get?
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original Tokyo Banana, the company released a caramel edition that featured both hints of caramel in the filling and the sponge itself.
These Tokyo Bananas were also given caramel colorings to provide a unique and flavor-indicative aesthetic.
If you’re not the biggest fan of commercial sponge cake, you can also find Tokyo Choco Bananas that have a chocolate casing.
In the cooler months, the original filling is used, but come the summer months, the Summer Choco Tokyo Banana is unleashed upon the streets of Japan. The Summer Choco has a mint-infused banana custard filling.
Perhaps it’s the smooth creamy filling you don’t like the sound of, in which case, you’ll be happy to learn that you can source them in the form of folded banana-flavored biscuit pastry and dough for a much dryer mouthfeel and equally satisfying experience.
Honey Tokyo Bananas are exclusive to Haneda Airport and feature cute bear face decorations.
Known as Tokyo Banana Racco, these coffee-flavored products are decorated with sea otters.
Maple Castella Cake
Here’s another one only sold at Haneda Airport. Originally brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century, castella cake is a particularly moist, traditionally rectangular confectionary similar to Madeira cake.
The Tokyo Banana company simply flavor it with banana and maple and serve them in banana shapes rather than rectangles.
The cream puff Tokyo Banana is much like the original, but it has fresh cream alongside the banana custard in the filling, and the casing is more akin to that of a profiterole.
The Tokyo Banana Raisin Sandwich switches things up rather dramatically. Rather than the typical sponge cake, the rum-raisin banana ganache is sandwiched between two banana-flavored, banana-shaped, cookies.
Wagashi are a traditional, plant-based Japanese confection customarily served as a little snack alongside a cup of tea.
The Wagashi Tokyo Banana utilizes a common wagashi ingredient known as anco, which is essentially a bean jam or paste. The jam is flavored with banana before being piped into a moist shell.
Baumkuchen, a moist spit-baked cake borrowed by Japan from German cuisine. The Tokyo Banana company released both a fresh, moist Baumkuchen Tokyo Banana and a Baumkuchen Brule Tokyo Banana.
Tokyo Banana Gaufrettes are simply waffles imbued with the banana-tinged creamy flavors of the original Tokyo Banana.
Tokyo Banana Ai to Sachi
This reworking of the Tokyo Banana format is a chocolate and milk-flavored cream-filled cookie.
There you have it, foodies. Tokyo Bananas are the signature snack of Tokyo, but it won’t be long before their unique flavorings and instantly recognizable aesthetic take on wider associations of Japan as a whole.
They’re probably not for everyone, but if you’ve got a trip to Tokyo planned and you need to find a present for your friend with a sweet tooth, a box of Tokyo Bananas makes a fantastic gift.