If you didn’t grow up in a plantain eating culture, you might have seen a jumbo, often black-skinned banana in the produce department and thought, how do I eat that? To people who know the joys of plantain, that unique fruit is a key player in many favorite dishes.
What are Plantains?
This hefty member of the banana family has a similar shape to the familiar Cavendish banana, with thicker skin and prominent seams running its length. Unlike your standard banana, plantains are just for cooking. The fruit is starchy and firm when unripe, and with a neutral, slightly tannic taste. When the skin is green or yellow, the fruit inside is more like a potato than a banana. As the skin transitions from green to yellow to black, some starches convert to sugars, and the fruit softens to a golden pulp.
Plantains Flourish Near the Equator
and South American, and Southeast Asian countries. Because of this diverse origin story, there are endlessly creative and delicious ways to cook them. In a Mexican restaurant, you might order Platanos Fritos, or Tostones, which are sliced, fried green plantains, or Platanos Maduros Fritos, fried ripe plantains- garnished with crumbled queso. A very similar dish is sold on street corners in West Africa as Kelewele or Aloco, possibly with some chopped peanuts. In Southeast Asia, it might be served with toasted coconut. Try a Caribbean dish of Shrimp Plantain Bowls with Mango Salsa
Plantain is often compared to potatoes, and mashed plantains are equally as beloved as mashed potatoes in the US. Dominican Mangu is a mashed plantain dish, made with green plantain for the least sweet flavor. Mofongo is a Dominican dish in which ripe, sweet plantains are sliced, fried, taken out of the pan and either mashed, or flattened, then fried again, for lots of crispy bits to contrast with the sweet, soft centers. Mashed plantains are often shaped into balls, stuffed with tasty fillings, and fried. A Guatemalan dessert, Rellenitos, fills portions of plantain mash with sweetened refried beans.
Like potatoes, sliced plantains are also often simmered in stews and soups, or simply boiled to serve with a sauce or stew ladled over them.
Plantain chips are a popular snack, and you can buy packages of them, ready to dip in salsa or accompany ceviche. You can make Oven Roasted Plantain Chips of your own, for a low-fat and fresh chip.
Plantain Flour and Weight Loss
The starchy green plantain has also joined the ranks of gluten-free flours. It’s very popular among followers of paleo and keto diets, because of the high fiber content. Raw plantain flour also contains “resistant starch,” a form of indigestible starch which is very filling but does not contribute calories or sugars when consumed. Resistant starch is thought to be a good tool for weight loss, as well as for diabetics who want to keep their blood sugars stable. For the benefits of resistant starch, the green plantain or flour can’t be cooked, it must be dried or dehydrated to keep the resistant starch from becoming digestible. Adding a tablespoon or two to a smoothie or salad dressing is one way to try it out.
Plantains are a Nutritious Food
Plantains are a great source of fiber, potassium, and Vitamins A and C. The fiber and starches in green plantains are prebiotics that help to maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Vitamins A and C are both antioxidants, which protect cells from premature aging and boost immunity. Potassium is essential to healthy blood pressure and heart health. Plantains contain almost no fat, so if you don’t fry them, they can be a lower fat food.
Add Some Variety to Your Meals with Plantains
The next time you see some plantains at the grocery store, take a look to see whether they are green, yellow or starting to turn black. Pick up a few and try them out, fried and crunchy, roasted, mashed, or even blended into a smoothie. You’ll be joining a big, happy club of plantain lovers!