What are plantains?
Plantains are also referred to as cooking bananas – a starchy fruit with neutrally flavored flesh. They can be eaten raw (depending on ripeness) but are most often cooked into a dish. They can be consumed at every stage of ripeness- from very green to very black- depending on the type of flavor and texture you are after. On the green side of the spectrum, plantains are similar to potatoes – dense flesh, neutral flavor, very sturdy. They are high starch and low sugar. At this stage they can also be dried and ground into flour for grain-free and gluten-free baking. And on the black side of the spectrum they are very sweet, melt-in-your-mouth soft and closer in flavor to yellow bananas.
Plantains vs. Bananas
Plantains have a thicker skin and are longer in length than bananas. They have a lower sugar content and a higher starch content, especially when green or unripe. They have extra-firm flesh as compared to a banana. Although technically considered a fruit, they are more often consumed like you would a vegetable – fried, simmered into soup, boiled and so on.
Which countries and cuisines use plantains?
Because the trees fruit year-round, plantains are a high-carbohydrate, reliable source of food for many countries. Plus they can live for up to a hundred years! The plantains themselves require little in the way of temperature-controlled storage after harvesting, making them an excellent choice for many developing countries.
What are the nutritional benefits of plantains?
Although plantains are high in starch, carbohydrates and calories, they also provide a lot of important nutrients. A cup of cooked plantains has 3 grams of fiber – just about 10% of the recommended daily value! Like bananas, they are also rich in potassium- that same cup of cooked plantains has about 14% of your recommended daily intake. Potassium is a crucial player in the healthy function of a cell, and it also helps regulate muscles and nerve signals. They are also rich in magnesium – another 14% of your daily total – which has anti-inflamatory benefits and helps lower blood pressure.
The Colors of Plantains and When They’re Used
Green – At this stage, plantains have hard, starchy, neutrally-flavored flesh similar to a potato. Like potatoes, they can be fried into chips or simmered into stews. They can also be dried and ground into a grain-free, gluten-free flour.
Yellow– at this stage, the flesh is beginning to soften and sweeten. If green plantains resemble a potato, yellow plantains resemble a sweet potato! The flesh is still going to be hard. You can wield them as you would a potato- use them in hash, bake/roast them in the oven or simply fry in a little butter!
Black and yellow– now the plantains are considered at their peak ripeness. They are still starchy, but are starting to turn softer and sweeter. Plantains in this stage are excellent for roasting, as in my Cuban Picadillo Stuffed Plantains recipe.
Black – once black, the plantains have flesh that is totally soft. They are very sweet in this stage and are used in applications closer to dessert. If yellow plantains are closer to a vegetable, then black plantains are closer to a fruit! You can find black plantains used in maduros, plantain cakes, and plantain bread.
How to peel a plantain:
Unlike bananas, plantains can be tough to peel by hand. No matter their stage of ripeness, I almost always use a knife. Best practice is to cut off each end of the plantain. Then use a small paring knife to cut into the peel (but not the flesh) and score it all the way to the other end. You can then remove the peel. Check out the pictures below!