Amongst our attic treasures (bonnets, newspapers, clothes, tools – and so much more) was this little Banania tin.

Banania began its life in 1914. Until 1918, it kept its ingredients secret, but in that year it became law for products to show their constituent parts. And so it was revealed that Banania contained ‘sweetened banana flour, soluble cocoa solids, vanilla sugar and vegetable cream’. The recipe hasn’t changed much over time. Today it has three types of cereal in it and honey. The different grains in it has meant that Banania can call itself a ‘petit déjeuner’ rather than just a chocolate drink.

As my old tin tells me, surprisingly in English as well as French, you mix your Banania with a little warm milk to start with, and then add hot milk to make a tasty drink. You must stir slowly for a better ‘aroma’! My tin dates from before 1930 since it’s blue. There have been many different styles over the years. These days the packets of recycled cardboard are usually yellow with a smiling African boy’s face. I have to say I think I prefer the old-fashioned version. It’s very smart. Clearly this tin was treasured and used to store other items after the Banania powder had all been used up. Maybe it was a very special treat? Or perhaps it was kept to remember a very special occasion? I wish I knew!

Banania today

Pierre-François Lardet was Banania’s inventor. He visited South America and came across an energising chocolatey drink called toholoatt which inspired him to come up with his banana-y version. During the First World War he shipped fourteen wagons of Banania for the soldiers. And during the Second World War, he managed to keep production going by relocating his factory in part of the ‘zone libre’, apparently near Limoges, not so far away. Some sources say it was close to Clermont-Ferrand. A bit of contradiction there. I must do some more research.

Banania was a sponsor of the Tour de France in 1938, and then from 1984 to 1986, it sponsored the yellow jersey. It showed its face again in 2003, but not since. It’s slowly losing its market footing. It’s been sold and resold a number of times and has been owned by Best Foods and Unilever, and now belongs to Nutrial. From being the leading chocolate drink in the 1970s, today it only has 8% of the market, compared with 31% for Nesquik and 27% for Poulain. Out of the three, I have to say Poulain is my favourite, but Banania is nice for a change. It has a definite biscuity taste because of its grains. I could do with the salt, which is why I prefer Poulain.

You should try it. And if you visit, you’ll find some lovely Banania recipes. The brownies look very tempting!