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History & Culture

Plantain Bananas | Different Ways To Cook Plantains

Have you ever spotted a large, green, banana-like fruit at a farmer’s market or grocery store and wondered what it was? While most of us are familiar with the banana, not many know its cousin – the plantain.

How are plantains different from bananas?

The sweet, yellow bananas that we are familiar with are known as ‘dessert bananas’. While plantains and other cooking bananas are closely related, plantains and bananas are the fruits of different species of plants and differ in their physical appearance and taste.

Nutritionally, plantains are largely the same as dessert bananas, containing micronutrients like vitamins A, B, and C, iron, and potassium. While more people around the world eat bananas, few people depend on them as a key source of food. However, in the tropical regions where they grow natively, cooking bananas and plantains are an important part of food security as they are among the most affordable and accessible foods.1,2

The terms ‘cooking banana’ and ‘plantain’ are often used interchangeably, but actually, not all cooking bananas are plantains, though they are cultivated and harvested in a similar manner.

How do plantains taste?

Typically starchier and less sweet than dessert bananas,  plantains can be eaten when they are unripe and green or when they are ripe and yellow.1 When eaten green, plantains are treated like vegetables and are often fried, baked, boiled, or steamed before eating. They taste like a cross between potato and yam and take on the flavour of their seasoning quite easily. 

Ripe yellow plantains have a texture and taste similar to that of the dessert banana and can be eaten raw without cooking or processing - but their lack of sweetness means they are generally more appealing when cooked and combined with other ingredients. 

How to cook plantain: Recipes from around the world

Plantains are an important traditional ingredient in many South Asian, African, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures. Here are a few ways you might see plantains served around the world - or could try preparing them yourself at home!

Platanos maduros fritos (Central & South America)

Platanos maduros fritos is Spanish for sweet fried plantains. In several South and Central American countries (like Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela) both ripe and unripe plantains are cut into long slices and fried in hot oil. Eaten savoury or sweet, platanos are often served as accompaniments to a full meal or eaten by themselves as a snack. 

 

Fufu (West Africa & the Caribbean)

Fufu is a staple food in many West African countries (like Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, and some Caribbean countries). It is a smooth, thick puree, eaten together with a fragrant soup or stew - made by pounding together starchy food crops like cassava, plantain, and yam in hot water.3,4 Be sure to eat fufu with your right hand and swallow it without chewing to prevent the starchy mixture from sticking to the inside of your mouth!4 The traditional method of preparing this dish is very labour-intensive and involves repeated pounding using a large mortar and pestle.4 An easier way to enjoy fufu is to use the instant mix that simply requires the addition of hot water.

 

Curries and stir-fries (India & Sri Lanka)

Plantains are popular in Sri Lanka and southern and eastern parts of India, where the fruit grows abundantly. In Sri Lanka, a chunky variety known as the ash plantain is used as a root vegetable in coconut-based curries, spicy stir-fries, and snacks. Similarly, many Indian regions combine plantains with locally available spices and other ingredients to make a variety of curries. One state in the east even uses plantain peels to make a chutney known as Kanchakalar Khosha Bata.  

 

Pisang Goreng (Southeast Asia)

Pisang Goreng, a street food from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, translates to ‘fried banana’ in the Malay and Indonesian languages. It is prepared by deep-frying local plantain varieties in palm oil, sometimes after coating it in batter. It is served in many different ways, sometimes sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon on ice cream or even as a savoury snack with cheese.4 

 

Banana ketchup (Philippines)

Yes, you read that right. Banana ketchup (or catsup) was invented by Filipina food technologist María Orosa when her country faced a tomato shortage during World War II. The recipe calls for the Saba banana, a plantain variety native to the Philippines. The banana is boiled and combined with onion, pepper, garlic, and spices. Banana ketchup looks almost like regular ketchup (because of the red food colouring) but is much sweeter, spicier, and slightly translucent.5, 6 It is eaten like ketchup – as a condiment with savoury foods.

 

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