Few items in the world of tropical cooking can truly capture the taste buds like plantains. These starchy fruits have gained popularity across a wide range of culinary traditions thanks to their interesting appearance and the promise of diverse flavours. But the issue still remains: What do plantains taste like to the uninitiated? Join us as we set out on a savoury journey to unravel the flavour of plantains.
What Are Plantains?
Plantains are a type of starchy, green-skinned fruit that belongs to the banana family (Musaceae). They are native to tropical regions and are a staple food in many parts of Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia.
Where Do Plantains Come From?
Plantains originate from Southeast Asia, particularly the region that includes Malaysia and Indonesia. They are believed to have been cultivated and consumed for thousands of years in these areas. Over time, plantains were spread to various tropical regions around the world through trade and exploration.
What Do Plantains Look Like?
Plantains are typically larger than dessert bananas and have a thicker, green to yellowish skin. Unlike dessert bananas, they are rarely eaten raw when green because of their starchy, firm texture.
What Do Plantains Taste Like?
When unripe, plantains have green, thick, and tough skin. They are often larger and more angular than dessert bananas. The flesh inside the green plantain is starchy and firm, with a mild, slightly savory flavor.
Green plantains are typically used in savory dishes.
As plantains ripen, they turn yellow. At this stage, the skin is still relatively firm. The flesh becomes sweeter and has a more distinct banana-like flavor. Yellow plantains are used in both savory and sweet dishes.
When plantains continue to ripen, they develop black spots on their skin. The flesh becomes even sweeter and takes on a more pronounced banana flavor. Black-spotted plantains are commonly used in sweet dessert dishes.
Can You Eat Plantains Raw?
Plantains are typically not eaten raw. Unlike bananas, which are sweet and soft when ripe and commonly consumed fresh, plantains have a starchy and mild taste when they are green and are not particularly palatable in their raw state.
How to Tell If A Plantain is Ripe
The color of a plantain is a good indicator of its ripeness. Green plantains are unripe and have a starchy taste. Yellow plantains are ripe and sweeter. Plantains with black spots on the skin are overripe.
Nutritional Content of Plantain
The exact nutritional content can vary based on the size and ripeness of the plantain, but here's a general overview of the nutritional value for a medium-sized (about 179 grams) cooked plantain:
- Calories: 122 calories
- Carbohydrates: 31.9 grams
- Dietary Fiber: 3.5 grams
- Sugars: 14.8 grams
- Protein: 1.3 grams
- Fat: 0.3 grams
- Potassium: 465 milligrams
- Vitamin A: 1127 IU
- Vitamin C: 18.4 milligrams
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): 0.4 milligrams
- Folate (Vitamin B9): 22.8 micrograms
Benefits of Eating Plantains
Rich in Nutrients: Plantains are a good source of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium.
Dietary Fiber: Plantains are high in dietary fiber, which can aid in digestion and help prevent constipation.
Heart Health: The potassium content in plantains can help regulate blood pressure and support heart health.
Energy Source: Plantains are a good source of complex carbohydrates, providing sustained energy.
Weight Management: The fiber in plantains can help you feel full and satisfied, potentially aiding in weight management by reducing overeating.
Improved Digestion: Dietary fiber can also support healthy digestion and prevent digestive issues.
Plantains vs Bananas: What is the Difference?
Taste and Texture
Plantains are starchy and have a mild, slightly savoury flavour, especially while they are still green. They get sweeter but keep their firmness and gain a less creamy texture as they ripen. Plantains are almost never eaten raw; instead, they are mostly utilised in cooking. On the other hand, when ripe, bananas are delicious and have a smooth, creamy texture. They are frequently consumed raw and are added to smoothies, desserts, and snacks.
Color and Appearance
Bananas are usually yellow when ripe, and they may develop brown spots as they become overripe. Plantains are green when unripe, yellow when ripe, and develop black spots when overripe. The ripeness affects their flavor and culinary uses.
Plantains are primarily used in cooking. They can be fried, boiled, baked, or grilled and are used in a wide range of savory dishes, such as tostones (fried green plantains) and mofongo, as well as sweet dishes, like maduros (sweet, ripe plantains) and plantain chips. Bananas are mainly consumed raw and are a popular snack or ingredient in desserts, breakfast items, and salads.
Plantains are a good source of complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. They also provide essential nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium. while bananas are rich in natural sugars, potassium, vitamin C, and dietary fiber.
Bananas ripen relatively quickly and are best when eaten at their peak of ripeness while plantains have a longer ripening process and can be used at various stages of ripeness, depending on the desired dish.
Is Plantain a Fruit or a Vegetable?
Plantains are a type of fruit, botanically speaking. They belong to the same family (Musaceae) as bananas, and like bananas, they are classified as berries. However, plantains are often treated and used more like vegetables in culinary contexts because they are typically starchy and less sweet than bananas.
How to Peel Plantains?
Peeling plantains is a straightforward process, but it's important to follow some basic steps to make it easier and minimize waste. Here's how to peel a plantain:
What You'll Need
- Ripe or unripe plantains
- A knife
- A cutting board
- Wash the Plantains: Begin by washing the plantains under running water. This removes any dirt or debris from the skin.
- Cut Off the Ends: Use a knife to cut off both ends of the plantain. Make a shallow incision at one end, and then use the knife to lift the skin slightly. This will give you a starting point for peeling.
- Score the Skin: Make a lengthwise cut along the plantain, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Be careful not to cut too deep into the flesh.
- Peel the Skin: Hold the plantain with one hand and use your other hand to slide your thumb or a fingertip under the scored skin. Gradually lift and peel the skin away from the flesh. You can also use the knife to help lift the skin if it's too stubborn to peel by hand.
- Remove Any Residual Skin: After peeling the plantain, check for any remaining bits of skin, especially in the grooves. Use the knife to remove any stubborn pieces.
- Slice or Prepare as Desired: Once the plantain is peeled, you can slice it into rounds, chunks, or any shape you need for your recipe.
How to Cook Plantains
1.Fried Plantains (Tostones or Plátanos Fritos):
- Ingredients: Green (unripe) plantains, cooking oil (vegetable, canola, or palm oil), salt
- Peel the plantains and cut them into 1/2-inch thick slices.
- Heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat.
- Fry the plantain slices until they're lightly browned on both sides.
- Remove the slices from the oil, flatten them slightly with a kitchen tool, and return them to the oil for a second frying until golden brown.
- Drain on paper towels, season with salt if desired, and serve.
2. Boiled Plantains:
- Ingredients: Green (unripe) or yellow (ripe) plantains
- Peel the plantains and cut them into chunks or leave them whole.
- Place the plantains in a pot, cover with water, and add a pinch of salt.
- Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes for green plantains and 20-30 minutes for ripe ones, or until they are soft.
- Drain and serve as a side dish or use in various recipes.
3. Baked Plantains:
- Ingredients: Ripe plantains
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Peel the plantains and cut them into rounds or lengthwise halves.
- Place the plantain pieces on a baking sheet and brush with a little oil or butter (optional).
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, flipping once, or until they are tender and lightly browned.
4. Plantain Chips (Mariquitas):
- Ingredients: Green (unripe) plantains, cooking oil, salt
- Slice the peeled plantains thinly with a knife or a mandoline.
- Heat the oil in a pan and fry the slices until they are crispy and golden.
- Drain on paper towels, season with salt, and serve as a snack.
5. Plantain Mash (Mofongo):
- Ingredients: Green (unripe) plantains, garlic, pork cracklings or bacon (optional), olive oil or butter, salt
- Boil the peeled plantains until soft.
- Mash the cooked plantains with garlic, pork cracklings (if using), oil or butter, and salt until well combined
Where to Buy Plantains
In conclusion, the world of culinary exploration is richer for the inclusion of plantains. These versatile fruits straddle the line between savory and sweet, offering a delightful range of flavors and textures. The taste of plantains evolves as they ripen, from the mild starchiness of green plantains to the sweet, banana-like essence of ripe ones.
As we've discovered, their unique taste, combined with their ability to adapt to countless recipes, makes plantains a culinary gem that adds an exotic twist to dishes from around the globe. So, whether you're savoring the crispy perfection of tostones, indulging in the caramelized sweetness of maduros, or using them as a base for mofongo, plantains are a testament to the diversity of flavors that the world's cuisines have to offer.