Plantain: Is it a big banana?

Aug 10, 2008 at 11:28 p.m. ET

The plantain, which resembles a large banana, can be used to create delicious meals, from appetizers to desserts. This delicious fruit varies in sweetness depending on its state of ripeness. Read on to learn more about the plantain.


All about plantains

Unlike the very similar banana, or more appropriately termed "dessert banana", the plantain is usually firmer and lower in sugar content. Also while bananas can be eaten raw, plantains normally require cooking.

Considerably larger than the banana, the plantain is also very rich in starch when unripe. As the ripening process advances, the starch begins to turn into sugar. When green and unripe, plantains are not sweet at all. As they get yellow, they are slightly sweet. And when the skins are nearly blackened and the fruit is fully ripe, plantains are definitely sweet.

Plantain history

The plantain is indigenous to the tropical region of Southeast Asia. It is most popular in tropical countries where they are used much the same way as potatoes. The northern limit of their cultivation is Florida, the Canary Islands, Egypt and Southern Japan, and the southern limit being Southern Brazil and Northern Argentina.

Portuguese Franciscans are widely regarded as being responsible for the introduction of plantain to the Caribbean islands and the Americas. However, that is still up for debate.

Plantain flowers and leaves

Not only is the plantain fruit edible, but its flower can also be eaten. In Vietnam, the plantain flower is used in salads, and in Laos it is eaten raw as an ingredient in soup.

As far as the leaves are concerned, due to its large size and tough texture many Caribbean countries have accustomed themselves to using them in a variety of dishes. In Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica, the leaves are oftentimes used to wrap tamales while cooking to seal in the flavor.

Cooking plantains

The plantain has many methods of preparation. It can be boiled, baked, fried and roasted. Tropical recipes tend to include them as ingredients of soups and stews. Unripe plantains can also be used as an alternative to potatoes. In some Caribbean islands, the plantain is dried and ground into flour. Some African cultures have been known to use the plantain to make intoxicating drinks.

Fried plantains

Fried plantains

Fried plantains can be served any time of the day. Ripe plantains are often fried and served with pancakes for breakfast, while unripe plantains can be fried with shrimp or other foods for dinner.

Sweet, ripe fried plantains are delicious when served with cream. Unripe fried plantains are fantastic with lime and salt.


  • 4 plantains
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil


  1. Peel plantains and cut each one in half and then cut lengthwise.
  2. Heat vegetable oil in a saute or frying pan to 325 degrees.
  3. Carefully place plantains in oil and fry 1 to 2 minutes on each side.
  4. Remove with slotted spoon and place on parchment paper or paper towels.

Fruits and vegetables