Ripe plantain that are slowly cooked in oil till they become caramelized: they are soft, sticky, juicy and delicious. 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 flavour 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 contain more starch and less sugar than dessert bananas, therefore they are usually cooked or otherwise processed before being eaten. They are always cooked or fried when eaten green. At this stage, the pulp is hard and the peel often so stiff that it has to be cut with a knife to be removed.
Mature, yellow plantains can be peeled like typical dessert bananas; the pulp is softer than in immature, green fruit and some of the starch has been converted to sugar. They can be eaten raw, but are not as flavourful as dessert bananas, so are usually cooked. When mature, yellow plantains are fried, they tend to caramelize, turning a golden-brown color. They can also be boiled, baked, microwaved or grilled over charcoal, either peeled or unpeeled.
Plantains are a staple food in the tropical regions of the world, ranking as the tenth most important staple food in the world. As a staple, plantains are treated in much the same way as potatoes and with a similar neutral flavour and texture when the unripe fruit is cooked by steaming, boiling or frying.
Since they fruit all year round, plantains are a reliable all-season staple food, particularly in developing countries with inadequate food storage, preservation and transportation technologies. In Africa, plantains and bananas provide more than 25 percent of the carbohydrate requirements for over 70 million people. Musa spp. do not stand high winds well, however, so plantain plantations are liable to destruction by hurricanes.
How to make it
After removing the skin, the unripe fruit can be sliced thin and deep fried in hot oil to produce chips.
This thin preparation of plantain is known as tostones, patacones or plataninas in some of Central American and South American countries, platanutres in Puerto Rico, mariquitas or chicharritas in Cuba and chifles in Ecuador and Peru. In Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, tostones instead refers to thicker twice-fried patties (see below).
In Colombia they are known as platanitos and are eaten with suero atollabuey as a snack. Tostada refers to a green, unripe plantain which has been cut into sections, fried, flattened, fried again, and salted. These tostadas are often served as a side dish or a snack. They are also known as tostones or patacones in many Latin American countries.
In Cuba, plantain chips are called mariquitas. They are sliced thinly, and fried in oil until golden colored. They are popular appetizers served with a main dish.
In Haiti, these slices are referred to as bannan fris. In Indonesia the banana chips are called kripik pisang. In Guyana and Ghana they are called “plantain chips“. In Ecuador and Peru, they are called chifles.
Chips fried in coconut oil and sprinkled with salt, called upperi or kaya varuthathu, are a popular snack in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. They are an important item in sadya, a vegetarian feast prepared during festive occasions. The chips are typically labeled “plantain chips” when they are made of green plantains that taste starchy, like potato chips.
In the southern Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where banana plants are commonly grown, plantain chips are an industry. In Kerala, different types of plantain are made into chips. They are usually cut thick, fried in coconut oil and seasoned with salt or spices. Sharkaravaratti is a variety of chips which is coated with jaggery, powdered ginger and cumin. In Tamil Nadu, a thin variety made from green plantains is common. Here, coconut oil is not used for frying, and the chips are seasoned with salt, chili powder and asafoetida.
In Honduras, they are called tajadas. If the chips are made from sweeter fruit, they are called banana chips. They can also be sliced vertically to create a variation known as plantain strips.
Plantain chips are also a popular treat in Cameroon, Togo, Jamaica, Ghana, Nigeria (where it is called ipekere by the Yorubas), and other countries such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, Ecuador, Guyana, India, the United States and Peru. They are also popular in other Caribbean communities.
In the western/central Indian language Marathi, the plantain is called rajeli kela (राजेळी केळ) (figuratively meaning “king-sized” banana), and it is often used to make fried chips.
An average plantain has about 220 calories and is a good source of potassium and dietary fiber. The sap from the fruit peel, as well as the entire plant, can stain clothing and hands, and can be very difficult to remove.
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