What is a plantain? Did you know that all plantains are not the same? A plantain is not a banana nor is a green banana a plantain. A green plantain or a sweet plantain is simply a plantain. A banana will always be a banana whether green or yellow. Growing up, I remember hearing the different names and seeing the different shapes of plantains and thought that it would be great to share a little bit of knowledge about this staple vegetable and sometime referred to fruit.
Plantains are categorized both as vegetable and fruit depending on the ripening stages. When I decided to write about this staple vegetable or fruit, I was not aware that it would be a challenge because of the absence of information. The internet has not proven to be a useful platform to extensively learn about the history and various types of plantains. It was time to go back to the old ways of retrieving information – communicating/talking to people directly.
Plantain’s history is very long and convoluted. The earliest written reference was some 2500 years ago. Introduced in the early years by traders to other “worlds,” the plantain crop has had a rapid expansion that is similar to its counterpart the banana.
Plantains are exclusively grown in developing countries of the tropics and the Caribbean. As one of the world’s most important crop and popular staple meal, it is apparent that many people will use it as a substitution for other starchy foods and grains. Although the history is a bit convoluted and not well known, plantain has found its place in many households. Today it is eaten boiled, fried, baked and masked in many parts of the world.
Labels in supermarket only read “plantains” for all types and sizes and only specific groups people will verbally disclose the varieties displayed on the shelves. These individuals may be from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Asia and maybe Europe.
A plantain is usually sold when its skin is green. If it becomes yellow, it is sold as sweet plantain because as it gets ripe the inside gets sweet. Plantains take a long time to ripen. When fruits start ripening which is the hydrolysis process that causes them to become more palatable, the fruit becomes sweeter, less green and softer as it ripens. The more moisture a fruit contains, the faster its starch is broken down into sugar—this process is called hydrolysis. Since plantains contain more starch and less moisture (65% compared to a bananas’ 83%), the starch hydrolysis occurs at a much slower pace. Plantains can take up to 5 weeks to ripen. Once ripen, the same consumption options apply, boiled, fried, baked etc.…
As a staple food in many Caribbean and Latin America homes, there are several plantains varieties. As mentioned earlier, the world wide web did not provide the specific names for different varieties. In this instance, people proved to be the best vehicle to obtain information.
In Haiti, here are a few of the names (the correct spelling of the names are not available at the time of this article): banan grosse botte, banan poban, banan musket, banan chop, grand vincent, and rullo. (thank you to my family and friends for sharing the names)
In St. Lucia some of the names are bugalo, blogo and moko. Thank you to Jo-Ann Hamilton, Founder of Secret Birds.
Jamaica: I have checked with a couple of friends and there are no other known names.
Barbados: I have also checked with a friend and not luck, plantain is just plantain.
If you know or remember the different names, please share with us, and again remember that the correct spelling were not provided. I would love to learn the different names for plantain, a staple vegetable or fruit, please do share.
Plantains have some great benefits. They are filled with nutrients and are a great substitute for many grains and root vegetables. Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, who is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine, has provided some valuable information on his website regarding plantains which I would love to share with you.
Here are a few benefits from Dr. Axe: (https://draxe.com/plantains/)
Nutritional Facts About Plantains
- 181 calories
- 47 grams carbohydrates
- 1.9 grams protein
- 0.5 grams fat
- 3.4 grams fiber
- 27.2 milligrams vitamin C (45 percent DV)
- 1,668 IU vitamin A (33 percent)
- 0.4 milligram vitamin B6 (22 percent)
- 739 milligrams potassium (21 percent)
- 55 milligrams magnesium (14 percent)
- 0.9 milligrams iron (5 percent)
Plantains are typically eaten when cooked, which changes the fruit’s nutritional value. One cup of cooked, mashed plantains has:
- 232 calories
- 62.3 grams carbohydrates
- 1.6 grams protein
- 0.4 gram fat
- 4.6 grams fiber
- 1,818 IU vitamin A (36 percent)
- 21.8 milligrams vitamin C (36 percent)
- 930 milligrams potassium (27 percent)
- 0.5 milligram vitamin B6 (24 percent)
- 64 milligrams magnesium (16 percent)
- 1.2 milligrams iron (6 percent)
If you wish to learn more about the benefits Dr. Axe provides a great explanation. See the bottom of the article.
Everything You Need to Know About Cooking with Plantains: Jessica Bose: Food Hacks
CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future: http://www.cgiar.org/our-strategy/crop-factsheets/bananas/
What is a Plantain? Plantains vs. Bananas? http://grabemsnacks.com/what-is-a-plantain.html
7 Reasons to Add Plantains to Your Diet (#5 Will Make You Think): https://draxe.com/plantains/