Plantain back

Plantain, whole and sliced on white background.

Description

A cooking plantain or plantain is one of the cultivated varieties (cultivars) of the genus Musa whose fruit is intended to be consumed only after cooking or other processing, rather than being eaten raw. The shoot is also used to make food and soups in various cuisines and the leaves and fibers are also used.

When the fruits are intended to be eaten raw they are known as “dessert bananas” or just “bananas”, although “banana” is also used as a collective term to include both bananas and plantains. There is no formal botanical distinction between the two. In some countries, there may appear to be a clear distinction between cooking plantains and dessert bananas, but in other countries, where many more cultivars are consumed, the differences are not so clear-cut and the distinction is not made in the common names used there. The difference between the two terms “plantain” and “banana”, used here, is based purely on how the fruits are consumed. Plantains are typically eaten cooked and are usually large, angular and starchy, in contrast to dessert bananas, which are typically eaten raw and are usually smaller, more rounded and sugary. A subgroup of plantain cultivars may be distinguished as “true” plantains.

Plantains contain more starch and less sugar than dessert bananas and are therefore cooked or otherwise processed before being eaten. They are always cooked or fried when eaten green. At this stage, the pulp is hard and the peel often so stiff, it has to be cut with a knife to be removed. Mature plantains can be peeled like typical dessert bananas; the pulp is softer than in immature, green fruit and some of the starch has been converted to sugar. They can be eaten raw, but are not as tasty as dessert bananas, so are usually cooked. When mature, yellow plantain is fried, they tend to caramelize – turning a golden brown color. They can also be boiled, baked or grilled over charcoal – both peeled or still in the peel.An average plantain has about 220 calories and is a good source of potassium and dietary fiber. Plantains are a staple food in the tropical regions of the world, the tenth most important staple that feeds the world. Plantains are treated in much the same way as potatoes and with a similar neutral flavour and texture when the unripe fruit is cooked by steaming, boiling or frying.

Plantains fruit all year round, which makes the crop a reliable all-season staple food, particularly in developing countries with inadequate food storage, preservation and transportation technologies. In Africa, plantains and bananas provide more than 25 percent of the carbohydrate requirements for over 70 million people.