Plantains, also known as plátanos, are closely related cultivars of fruit or dessert banana. In general, they treated as vegetables in the kitchen much like fellow tropical produces such as potatoes, taro, breadfruit, yam, sweet potatoes, etc. Indeed, plátano are one of the staple sources of carbohydrates for larger populations in Asia, Oceania, Africa, and Central Americas for centuries, served in main courses.
As in bananas, plantain too belong to the Musaceae family. In the nature, it was thought to have developed by hybridization of two wild species of Muscaceae, Musa acuminata Colla (AA) and M. balbsiana Colla (BB), and consist of chromosomal triploid AAB genome.
|Raw as well as ripe plantains in a super-market. Photo courtesy: Luigi Guarino|
Plantain is quite different from dessert banana, being taller and larger and more drought tolerant. It is a perennial herbaceous plant that develops from the underground rhizome. Like bananas, it too flourishes well under tropical moisture-rich, humid low-lying farmlands.
At maturity, the rhizome gives rise to flower (inflorescence) that is carried up along its smooth, elongated, un-branched stem, piercing through the center of pseudo-stem, finally emerging out at the top in between its leafy clusters. The flower eventually develops into bunch, consisting of 3 to 20 hands, with each bunch holding at least 5-10 fingers (fruits).
|Plantain (right) with Inflorescence and tender banana stem in a market.|
Raw green plantains can only eaten after cooking. Each fruit measures about 3 to 10 inches or more in length depending upon the cultivar type. They tend to have coarser external features with prominent edges and flat surfaces unlike smooth, rounded contour of dessert bananas. The flesh inside is rich in starch, with tiny edible black seeds concentrated at its core. Ripening process, however, enhances flavor and sweetness since much of its starch converts to sugar, similar to as in the case of fruit bananas but to a lesser extent.
Plantain flower (inflorescence) as well as its interior stem (true-stem) too are eaten in various kinds of recipes in South-Asian regions.
Plantain relatively has more calories weight for weight than that in the table bananas. 100 g plantain holds about 122 calories, while dessert banana has only 89 calories. Indeed, they are very reliable sources of starch and energy; ensuring food security for millions of inhabitants worldwide.
It contains 2.3 g of dietary fiber per 100 g (6% of DRA per 100 g). Adequate amount of dietary-fiber in the food helps normal bowel movements, thereby reducing constipation problems.
Fresh plátanos have more vitamin C than bananas. 100 g provide 18.4 mg or 31% of daily required levels of this vitamin. Consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals. However, boiling and cooking destroys much of this vitamin in plantains.
Plantains carry more vitamin A than bananas. 100 g fresh ripe plantains contain 1127 IU or 37.5% of daily required levels of this vitamin. Besides being a powerful antioxidant, vitamin A plays a vital role in the visual cycle, maintaining healthy mucus membranes, and enhancing skin complexion.
As in bananas, they too are rich sources of B-complex vitamins, particularly high in vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine). Pyridoxine is an important B-complex vitamin that has a beneficial role in the treatment of neuritis, anemia, and to decrease homocystine (one of the causative factors for coronary artery disease (CHD) and stroke episodes) levels in the body. In addition, the fruit contains moderate levels of folates, niacin, riboflavin and thiamin.
They also provide adequate levels of minerals such as iron, magnesium, and phosphorous. Magnesium is essential for bone strengthening and has a cardiac-protective role as well.
Fresh plantains have more potassium than bananas. 100 g fruit provides 499 mg of potassium (358 mg per 100 g for bananas). Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure, countering negative effects of sodium.
|Plantain (left) and banana.
Photo courtesy: satanoid.
Plantains of all varieties can be readily available in the USA supermarkets all around the year. At maturity, they generally harvested unripe and right away carried to the market for sale.
Look for firm, mature, deep green, well-formed plantains that feel heavy in hand. Do not buy overripe, damaged, split fruits, as they stay poor. Once at home, store them open at room temperature for up to 4-5 days.
Once ripen, plantains too, like bananas, are very fragile and show signs of decay in short time span.
Photo courtesy: Purdman1.
|Plantain chips (vaazhakka upperi)-India|
|Tostones are other Caribbean specials. Photo courtesy: John Stephen.|
Plantains are inedible raw and should be eaten only after cooked.
To prepare, just wash the raw fruit in cold water and mop dry using paper cloth. Using a paring knife, trim either ends. Then, cut the fruit into short lengths, split the skin superficially along the ridge and peel the skin gently away from the flesh to get firm flesh inside. Oftentimes, the whole fruit may be barbequed with its skin. Otherwise, its peeled flesh may be cut into thin slices, grated, chunks treated much like potatoes in many traditional African and West-Indian cuisine.
Plátano can be delicious once cooked and usually served in main dishes as the chief carbohydrate source in many parts of the tropical regions.
Here are some serving tips:
Plantains make delicious savory recipes, used in place of potatoes in grills, mashed, bake, or fries.
In South-Indian Kerala state, plantain chips (vaazhakka upperi) seasoned with salt and pepper, is a popular snack. Tostones (plátano, fried twice), prepared in a similar way are again a popular snacks in the Caribbean and Latin Americas.
Its flower head (inflorescence) and interior icicle-white, tender stem (vazhai thandu in Malayalam) too are eaten in various kinds of recipes in South-Asian regions.
Mashed plantain served with fried onions is a national breakfast dish of Dominican Republic. Mashed platanos are served with rice, eggs, beans, poultry, fish, etc., in these regions.
Being a close relative of bananas, plantains too often can be a cause for skin and systemic allergic reactions in some sensitive individuals. The fruit may elicit urticaria and may cause potentially serious gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. "Oral allergy syndrome," is a condition in which eating banana family foods may cause itching and swelling in the mouth or throat within hours.
Another kind of allergic reaction may be related to plant latex. (Medical disclaimer).
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Research articles on nutrition.
1. Musa species-Banana and plantains.
2. USDA - Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.