You've probably come across it in the fruit section at your local grocery stores. At first glance, it looks like a banana. But on a closer inspection, you'll realize that it's firmer and bigger than the normal banana! This is plantain, a starchy cousin of the banana that can only be eaten when cooked.
Plantains are an important staple food in many parts of Africa, the Americas, and Southeast Asia. Technically speaking, plantains are fruits, but you can't eat them raw, so they're generally used as vegetables. Plantains can only be cooked when ripe! And depending on their ripeness, they can be baked, boiled, roasted, or deep fried.
Suppose you've been to Africa, Central America, or the Caribbean. In that case, you'll agree that these regions hold plantains in high regard. Although plantains look like bananas, they aren't eaten like normal bananas and don't peel like bananas. Plantains are also less sweet than bananas but starchier. Full of Vitamin A and C, high on fiber, and loaded with potassium, plantains deserve a place on your menu.
With that in mind, this comprehensive article looks at everything you need to know about plantains. We'll include a super simple but tasty plantains recipe while also showing you why this can be a healthy side or quick snack to add to your menu.
What are Plantains?
Also known as cooking bananas, plantains are a common cuisine in Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, and Southeast Asia. This is a tropical seedless berry in the banana family that is indigenous to the tropical regions of Southeast Asia. They were, however, brought to other tropical regions such as Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America by slave traders.
Plantains date as far back as 2,500 years ago. Early records show that it was mentioned in the Ancient Greek diaries of Alexander the Great when he traveled to India. And because he liked the dish, he ordered his subjects to plant plantains in the coastal regions of his African colonies.
Today, plantains are found in all tropical climates worldwide. Still, the largest producers of plantains are African nations such as Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, and Rwanda. More importantly, plantains remain a staple food for more than 70 million people worldwide and provide above 255 food energy requirements.
A plantain is scientifically categorized as a fruit but cannot be eaten raw. It's similar to normal bananas, but you should cook it before consumption. It can be cooked only when ripe, but it comes in three stages of ripeness. The first stage is when it's green before turning yellow, and finally black.
Plantains vs. Bananas
Although plantains are a staple food in many households, especially in Africa and Central America, they're not well known in the United States. You can easily confuse them with bananas because they look so much alike and belong to the same group. But what's the difference between plantains and bananas?
While plantains and bananas are genetically similar, bananas can be eaten raw. The edible flesh becomes sweeter and softer when ripe. On the other hand, plantains cannot be eaten raw and must be cooked before consumption.
Plantains are generally larger and tougher than bananas. They have much thicker skin, which makes peeling them quite tough, unlike bananas that you can easily peel off the skin when ripe.
Regarding nutrition and health benefits, bananas and plantains are both nutrient-rich foods. Remember that they're both whole foods with high fiber that can help reduce blood sugar levels. However, plantains tend to be starchier and lower in sugar than bananas.
The idea here is that eating raw plantains is not ideal because of the high starch content. On the other hand, bananas have more natural sugars, that's why they're quite tasty. The high natural sugar content in bananas means it's not healthy to over-indulge in them. As long as the plantains are cooked properly, you can eat more plantains than you would bananas and still gain from their high nutrients.
Bananas are rich in Vitamin B6, which is essential in the metabolization of carbohydrates. They're also perfect for producing red blood cells, which is why bananas are highly recommended for pregnant women. Bananas are also a great source of manganese and potassium.
Plantains are a great source of Vitamin A, B6, and C. They also provide potassium loads, ensuring muscle contraction and fluid regulations.
Green Plantains vs. Yellow Plantains?
Plantains are generally green when they're harvested. But with time, they'll turn yellow before finally turning black. You have to keep in mind that plantains are unripe when they're green in color and will only turn yellow when ripe, and finally black when overripe.
Both green and yellow plantains can be consumed when cooked. However, there are noticeable differences between green and yellow plantains regarding taste, texture, and nutritional content. Let's go into the details.
As we've just noted, green plantains are unripe and can be difficult to peel. This is because the texture is firm, unlike yellow plantains, which are easier to peel but not as easy as bananas.
In terms of starch, green plantains tend to be starchier than yellow plantains. This starch is important to your digestive health as it is dietary fiber. Differently, this starch is turned into sugar when plantains become yellow.
As far as taste is concerned, green plantains are less sweet than yellow plantains. Green plantains taste like potatoes, while yellow plantains are very sweet even when cooked. This is because green plantains have high starch content while yellow plantains have more sugar content.
That said, you should regulate your consumption of cooked plantains as you do not want to consume excessive sugar. On the other hand, you can consume as many green plantains as you want as they contain starch and not sugar, but their preparation can be lengthy.
What are Fried Ripe Plantains?
A common Caribbean and African cuisine is served with almost every dish; plantains can be served as a main meal or snack. It has a sumptuous, crispy and caramelized, and sweet-savory taste. It features thick slices of ripe plantains that are lightly salted and deep fried in oil until it turns golden brown. While it has a caramel-like brown crust appearance on the outside, it should be soft and very sweet on the interior.
As we've noted a couple of times in this article, plantains are a traditional treat in various parts of the world, including the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia. As such, there's no specific way of preparing plantains. Instead, there are various plantains recipes.
Are Fried Plantains Healthy?
Plantains are a super dietary food devoid of unhealthy fats and sodium. Besides being super delicious, plantains are a great source of starch that you can add to almost any meal. According to USDA FoodData Central, one cup of plantains contains 365 calories. This means that it's a great source of carbohydrates.
It's also rich in Vitamin A, B6, and C, essential in enhancing your immune system, vision, nervous system function, and the production of red blood cells. This sumptuous dish is also a great source of potassium for fluid balance in the body and magnesium that your body needs for energy metabolism and the proper function of enzymes.
Plantains contain a high content of mono and polyunsaturated fats that can help reduce heart disease risks.
- 4 ripe plantains (yellow)
- 2 cups of vegetable oil for frying
- Salt and granulated garlic to taste
Steps to Make It (Directions)
- The first step is to peel the plantains using the right knife. It would help if you sliced them into thick chips using a mandoline. Soak the chips in salted cold water for half an hour.
- Heat oil in a hammered fry pan or a heavy pot over medium heat. You must ensure that the oven's thermometer is at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- You should then drain the plantains from the water and pat them dry. Deep them in the oil and fry the chips. It's important to have a fork to separate them regularly, so they don't stick together.
- Fry the chips until they turn golden. It would help if you used a slotted spoon to transfer the chips to a plate lined with paper towels and let the oil drip.
- Sprinkle with salt and granulated garlic.
- You can serve the chips while hot or let them cool and store them in an airtight container. Remember that the chips can stay for up to four days before they become stale.
This section will look at crucial tips to make the above-discussed process much easier.
How to Peel Plantains
Unlike bananas, which are very easy to peel, peeling plantains is not a walk in the park. Here's how to do it. Remember that using the right knife, such as a peeling knife, becomes easier.
- Cut both ends of the plantain and carefully run the peeling knife through the length of the plantain's cover. Make sure that the knife doesn't cut into the plantain's flesh.
- Run the knife around the edged of the ends and do it through the plantain's length without cutting into the flesh. Make sure that you do the same in all directions.
- Using your fingers, separate and detach the peel from the plantain and repeat the step to remove the skin from the plantain and do the same to all the plantains you intend to cook.
How Ripe Should Plantains be for Frying
As noted earlier, plantains can be fried in three different stages: green (unripe), yellow (ripe), and black (overripe). However, the best stage to fry the plantains is when it's ripe, mostly with yellow and little patches of black. Just make sure that it's not overly ripe. Instead, it should be slightly firm when touched and similar to when you squeeze a peach.
The idea here is that unripe plantains are not ready for frying and may take a lot of time to cook. Similarly, overripe plantains (mostly black) are too soft and can be difficult to prepare.
You must remember it's nearly impossible to find ripe plantains at the grocery store. You'll mostly find green plantains left to ripe on the counter. So you can buy them at this stage, and they'll take about a week to ripen.
Should You Soak Plantains Before Frying
Yes, it's important to soak plantains in salted cold water for about 30 minutes before frying. This is essential in ensuring that they become crunchier on the outside and moist on the inside when fried.
How to Eat Fried Ripe Plantains
An easy and quick way to eat plantains is by serving them as a snack or a side dish alongside Jamaican jerk chicken, red beans, and rice. You can also use them as a side dish on various soup stews, such as beef or chicken stew. You can also incorporate plantains as part of your breakfast or main meal.
How to Properly Store or Preserve Plantains
Given that plantains are handy and healthy snacks that are easy to prepare, you'll probably want to keep a few plantains in your kitchen. Whether fried, baked, boiled, or cooked, the best way to preserve plantains is by letting them cool after frying them. You can then place them in an airtight container before being placed in the refrigerator. Remember that they typically last for about 4 days before they start stale.