Everything You Need to Know About Plantains
Plantains, a subset of the banana family, are starchier and lower in sugar than the more familiar cavendish banana. Also known as ‘cooking bananas’ plantains are larger, thick-skinned and can often be bought in three different points of ripeness: green, yellow and black. Due to the fact that they are almost always served cooked, they are a more versatile ingredient than traditional bananas.
Native to India, Africa and the Caribbean, plantains trees grow best in warm, tropical climates. They don’t have a growing season and are therefore readily available year-around, making them a valuable food source in many countries. Often treated more like a vegetable than a fruit, plantains are extremely economical and boast a neutral flavour and texture not unlike potatoes, which they’re often used as a substitute for.
While there is really only one type of plantain, there are three major points of ripening that separate them into three groupings:
Green Plantains: When plantains are green, the pulp is fairly hard and the peel is typically removed with a knife. At this stage, they are starchy, similar to a potato and are commonly used for additions into stews, soups, or for Tostones, a popular twice-fried plantain dish in Latin America.
Yellow plantains: Slightly sweeter than green plantains, yellow plantains are mature and most often made into sweet, dried plantain chips. When the skin is yellow with black or black, they can be peeled more like a banana.
Black plantains: Despite their colour, black plantains are good to eat. They are the sweetest and softest at this point and are typically used for desserts as they caramelize well when fried.
How to Select and Store Plantains
Look for plantains that are firm when green, yield to gentle pressure when yellow, and are slightly soft when fully ripe and black. Avoid all plantains, regardless of colour, if they are cracked or mouldy.
Plantains should be stored at room temperature. Fully ripe plantains are hard to find at the grocery store, so buy a bunch a few days or even a week before you need them as they will ripen slowly at room temperature. You can help to speed up the process by tucking them into a closed paper bag.
How to Prepare Plantains
Plantains are available at most major grocery stores year-round and can be purchased at different points of ripeness.
When you are ready to eat your plantains, the first steps in preparing them are to wash the plantains with their skin intact, and then use a paring knife to cut off both the stem and tip. Slice into the skin of the plantain lengthwise at the ridges (be careful not to cut too deep) and remove strips of skin using the knife or peel it, depending on if it is green or ripe. Cut off any remaining peel attached to the pulp and then can chop or use the plantain whole according to the recipe directions.
Plantains can be baked, boiled, grilled, roasted or fried. They can also be mashed or chopped and used as an ingredient in stew and soup.
There are many different ways to prepare plantains. Below are a few suggestions for you to try!
To boil green plantains: Wash and cut off ends. Keep skin on and cut into 1 inch disks, then boil over medium heat for approx. 20-30 minutes until the vegetable is fork tender and the colour is an even yellow. Remove from heat and let cool sufficiently to remove the peel, which now comes away easily. These are eaten on their own or can be served with butter, oil and salt, sprinkled with cheese, or served with avocado based dips, salsas or in place of potatoes or sweet potatoes in meals.
To fry plantains: Wash and peel. Remove ends and cut into ½ inch to one inch pieces. Using enough vegetable oil to lighly cover the pan, fry over medium heat using tongs to avoid being splashed by hot oil with turning. Cook until golden about 4-6 minutes, and serve with either salt or cinnamon!
To bake or roast: Peel and bake whole in 400°F oven for 30-40 minutes until fork tender.
Plantains are also often dried and ground into a flour also known as banana flour. Where plantains are commonly enjoyed, this flour is mixed with milk and served as a first food for infants.
- Plantains take longer to ripen than regular bananas, but the good news is that there are many ways of cooking them at each stage of ripening – meaning you will never be left with one that is unusable.
- Plantains are an excellent source of fibre. They are also low in fat, gluten free and cholesterol free.
- Ripe plantains, when deep-fried are enjoyed as chips and are a popular snack all over the world.
- Plantains can be fried, boiled, grilled or baked/roasted in the oven!
- When a plantain fully ripens, it quickly decays, similar to a banana.
Plantains Go Well With
Remember: Green Plantains are more neutral in flavour and typically are enjoyed as part of a meal or a savoury snack. Mature plantains which are yellow to black are softer, sweeter and are often enjoyed as a dessert.
Dairy: Butter, yogurt, ice cream
Produce: Onions, garlic, orange, lemon, lime, avocado, tomatoes
Sweet, Spices and Other Flavours: Cardamom, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, honey, garam masala, garlic, ginger, oil, pepper, allspice, chocolate, brown sugar, star anise
Savoury: Eggs, bacon, chicken, pork, rice, salsa, soups, stews, coconut
Plantain Serving Ideas
Garlicky Plantains: Double-fried and soaked in garlic water, this recipe is not to be missed.
Red Stew with Spiced Plantains: This vegan dish is reminiscent of a spicy bean and tomato chili topped with crispy deep-fried plantain pieces for crunch.
Fried Plantains: Ripe plantains have peels that are almost completely black, whereas the firmer yet semi-ripe ones called for in this recipe are mottled black and yellow.
Mashed Plantains: Often served for breakfast with eggs.
Plantain Pancakes: A savoury, crisp pancake that’s just as delicious for breakfast as it is for lunch.
Crispy Salted Tostones: Like French fries, but maybe even better.
Jamaican Dumplings with Plantains: These plantain parcels are perfectly portioned and can be on the table in less than an hour.
Plantain Curry: The perfect combination of sweet and spicy!
Chapo: In Peru, plantains are boiled and mixed with water and spices to make this popular drink.
Plantains are naturally gluten free so are a good choice for those who seek alternative carbohydrates. One hundred grams of boiled green plantains has only 121 calories, 0 fat and cholesterol, plus 10% of your daily requirement for fibre. It is also a source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Potassium.