Keep reading to learn more about how people around the globe use plantains for health, happiness, and wellness.
Sometimes called ‘cooking bananas,’ plantains are edible fruits in the genus Musa primarily consumed cooked, not raw like most other fruits. Native to tropical regions of the world, plantains are, in fact, ‘berries’ that grow on a giant herb. Though colloquially, plantains grow on ‘plantain trees.’ Plantain trees spring from the ground, extending to impressive heights of 15 feet high. The enormous herbs have huge fan-like leaves and sprout long clusters of danging flowers that turn to fruit. Further, ripe plantains look like large, over-ripe bananas.
Prolific in areas with ample warmth and humidity, plantains are a staple in the diets of millions around the world. Fried, boiled, mashed, roasted, and everything in between, plantains are eaten both for their delicious flavor and the nutritional value they add to a balanced diet. Primarily consumed in traditional cuisine, there is historical evidence that the juice from the plantain tree may once have been used as an antidote for snake venom.
Thought to have originated in Southeast Asia, plantains spread throughout the world via merchants and explorers, taking root in warm, tropical climates worldwide. Plantains account for nearly 85% of the world’s banana crops. Likewise, plantains account for 25% of the average carbohydrate intake of at least 70 million people worldwide. Today, the top producers of plantains include Cameroon (4.3 million tons of plantains per year), Ghana, Uganda, Columbia, and Nigeria. If you live in North America, your plantains are likely from Mexico, Columbia, or Ecuador.
Sometimes called ‘the best cooking bananas in the world,’ the Hawaiian plantain is unique among the rest in that you can eat it both cooked and raw. Sweeter, stouter, and easier to peel than most other plantain varieties, the Hawaiian plantain is typically cut into slices and fried. Then, crushed and fried again to create a crispy ‘chip’ with a delightfully creamy center. Other traditional Hawaiian plantain recipes include the addition of sweet ingredients like honey.
Multiple varieties of plantain and banana grow in abundance on the Hawaiian islands. There are both native and recently introduced varieties found. Thus you can find plantains cultivated in places like the Honaunau Farm as well as growing wild in the mountains.
While there is no real difference between the plantain and the banana – both members of the same genus and plant families – plantains differ slightly. One can commonly distinguish a plantain by its tough skin, high starch content, and firm inner flesh that remains stiff even when it is fully ripe. Because of this, individuals exclusively eat most plantains cooked. On the other hand, bananas contain a higher percentage of sugar, are soft, easy to peel, and most often eaten raw.
Delicious and versatile, plantains haven’t become one of the world’s most popular starches by accident – this fruit has all the qualities of a staple ingredient, including excellent nutritional value. In addition to being a filling, tasty addition to a meal, eating plantains can positively affect your health and wellbeing.
If you still believe the myth that carbs are bad for you, we’ve got some excellent news: carbs are great! Carbs give you energy and support a healthy gut, fueling your day and keeping you comfortable and regular. Complex carbs, in particular, are the carbs you want to eat the most since these are the ones that give you energy while supporting a healthy weight, digestion, skin health, etc. Plantains are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates with more than 30 grams per serving and a healthy dietary fiber dose.
Antioxidants work to fight free-radicals in the body, combating disease, infections, and toxins that may invade the bloodstream. Vitamin C is one of the most effective antioxidants and highly bioavailable to the body. Accordingly, consuming foods high in vitamin C is an easy way to give your body a healthy dose. A single plantain has around 22% of your daily recommended value of vitamin C, which is plenty to help support and boost your immune system to fight off potential illness.
High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of heart attacks and heart disease, often linked with poor nutrition or strenuous lifestyles. Potassium combats high blood pressure by relaxing the walls of your blood vessels to lower overall stress. As a result, potassium reduces cramping and the risk of a heart attack. Plantains contain 11% of your daily recommended potassium value, so if you aren’t already enjoying this starchy banana for the taste, test it out to help your heart.
If you want to try cooking plantains at home, it is best to start with some of the most popular (and most traditional) methods of cooking these starchy fruits. Here are three classic and delicious ways to prepare plantains:
Traditional in Central and South American cuisine, maduros are sweet fried plantains typically served as a side dish or as a topping for meat dishes, soups, stews, and more. While sweet, maduros are often paired with savory garlic and herb sauce, though they may be served plain or with the addition of dessert spices like cinnamon.
Made by slicing sweet, ripened plantains at an angle, pan-frying in hot vegetable oil, making maduros is the easiest way to start enjoying plantains at home.
PRO TIP: To ensure your maduros will be sweet, choose the ripest, most blackened plantains you can find!
Thought to have originated in the Dominican Republic, tostones are twice-fried green plantains made to resemble a thick ‘chip’. Eaten as a side or used as the foundation for a jibarito sandwich, tostones are the crispy, savory cousin of maduros.
To make tostones, you first fry green plantain slices in a skillet until golden brown. Then, flatten to a ½ inch thick disk. Each plantain disk is then deep-fried until crisp, seasoned with a little salt, and served hot.
Individuals can find mashed plantain dishes all around the world with fufu. From Ghana, the Caribbean, Tacacho from Peru, and Cayeye from Columbia, mashed plantain is a traditional dish. The most well-known of these mashed plantain dishes is mofongo. This Puerto Rican version includes fragrant garlic and fatty pork.
Mofongo is made by first slicing and frying green plantains in the same way you would if you were making tostones. Once the plantains are golden and soft, you then mash the pieces in a mortar. Pestle along with raw garlic, broth, and herbs until smooth. Then, mofongo is served alongside other dishes in the way North Americans might eat potatoes, bread, or pasta. Some versions of mofongo include pork rinds, fried meats, and other added ingredients.
Eaten daily by people worldwide, the answer as to when you should eat plantain is: whenever you want! Here are answers to some more common questions about eating plantain:
Yes! Unless you have an allergy or sensitivity to plantains or similar fruits, most people can safely eat plantain daily.
Yes! Plantain is a staple in the diets of millions of people worldwide. It is a gentle starchy food that can be soothing on an empty stomach.
Yes! Like bananas, plantains are an excellent potassium source, helping the body relax and promote deeper, more rejuvenating sleep.
A typical serving of plantain is considered 100 grams of fruit – eat less or more depending on your body and its needs.
While plantains are healthy when consumed on their own, other ingredients – like sugar, oil, and salt – can change their nutritional value. If you consume overly sugary or greasy foods (including plantains), this could harm your digestive health, heart health, skin health, etc. Unless you have a condition that prevents you from consuming bananas and plantains, there are no other known side effects of eating plantain.
A year-round crop, plantains are eaten daily by millions around the world. In general, unless you experience gastrointestinal distress or are directed to stop eating plantains by a doctor, it is safe to consume plantains regularly.