Green plantains are distinguished by their age. They are simply the younger immature stage of the fruit. Their peel is thin and they have a very firm and starchy textured, lean-flavored flesh due to their very low sugar content. As plantains ripen, they develop a sweet taste and their color changes from green to yellow to black.
The term "plantain" is loosely applied to any banana cultivar that is eaten when cooked. However, there is no formal botanical distinction between bananas and plantains.
Cooking is also a matter of custom, rather than necessity. Ripe plantains can be eaten raw since the starches are converted to sugars as they ripen. In some countries, there may be a clear distinction between plantains and bananas, but in other countries, where many more cultivars are consumed, the distinction is not made in the common names used
In more formal usage, the term "plantain" is used only for "true" plantains, while other starchy cultivars also used for cooking are called "cooking bananas"
Plantains are a major food staple in West and Central Africa, the Caribbean islands, Central America, and northern, coastal parts of South America. They are treated as a starchy fruit with a relatively neutral flavor and soft texture when cooked. As with all bananas, part of the attractiveness of plantains as food is that they fruit all year round, making them a reliable all-season staple food.
Plantains can be boiled, baked, or fried, both when ripe and in their green state.
Each cooking method offers a unique experience. Green boiled plantains can be mashed and served in dishes like Mofongo, a traditional dish from Puerto Rico or flattened and fried to make a toston—delicious with a dash of salt and often served with cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole or a protein as an appetizer.
However, when ripe, plantains offer a whole other experience. Ripe plantains naturally caramelize when fried or baked. They taste naturally sweet and are traditionally served whole or in slices. Ripe plantains are becoming immensely popular in mainstream menus across the United States and, more recently, in Canada and Europe, in part thanks to Celebrity Chefs like Rachel Ray, Bobbie Flay, and Martha Stewart, all of whom have offered recipes with this versatile fruit. One of our favorites is the Plantain-Stuffed Pork Loin as featured by Martha Stewart.
The plantain is consumed worldwide and is a major food staple in Southeast Asia, West and Central Africa, Central America, the Caribbean Islands, and regions of South America. Its appeal comes in part from the fact that this tropical fruit grows year-round.
The plantain has many of the same nutritional benefits of the banana, and in its raw state is fat-free, cholesterol-free, and high in potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C.