Difference Between Banana & Plantain

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

While almost everyone knows what a banana is, the plantain is still a mystery to some people. Although they are similar to bananas, plantains do have some unique characteristics, several health benefits, and nutritional components that make the distinction evident!

What is Plantain?

Bearing the scientific name Musa paradisiaca, plantains are a member of the banana family but are typically prepared in different ways and have slightly different nutritional makeup. Native to India, these fruits are now widely cultivated in other tropical climates, particularly the Caribbean and Central America, as well as Africa. When you see plantains in a store, they typically look like large green bananas, but they aren’t considered fully ripe until the skin is almost fully black. [1]

Used more often as a vegetable than a fruit, the high starch content makes plantains an important staple food in many cultures around the world, as they can provide concentrated bursts of energy and several other health benefits.

Flatline picture of a plate of plantain chips along with bowl banana slices and bananas on a slate background.

Plantains are usually longer than bananas and have a dull yellow color. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Plantain Vs Banana

Plantains are closely related to bananas, but there are some key differences. Plantains tend to be more dull yellow than their dessert banana cousin. The consistency of these fruits is also much harder than bananas. This is because plantains contain much more starch, and are not typically as sweet as bananas. [2]

While bananas are commonly eaten raw, perhaps for breakfast or as an easy mobile snack, plantains are almost always cooked to make them palatable. With a significantly lower sugar content than bananas, unripe plantains are unpleasant to eat.

Nutrition Facts

Plantains, yellow, raw
Serving Size :
Water [g]65.2
Energy 122
Energy [kJ]510
Protein [g]1.3
Total lipid (fat) [g]0.35
Ash [g]1.15
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]31.89
Fiber, total dietary [g]1.7
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]17.51
Sucrose [g]0.18
Glucose (dextrose) [g]8.69
Fructose [g]8.64
Starch [g]12
Calcium, Ca [mg]3
Iron, Fe [mg]0.55
Magnesium, Mg [mg]36
Phosphorus, P [mg]32
Potassium, K [mg]487
Sodium, Na [mg]4
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.19
Copper, Cu [mg]0.07
Manganese, Mn [mg]0.14
Selenium, Se [µg]1.5
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]18.4
Thiamin [mg]0.06
Riboflavin [mg]0.08
Niacin [mg]0.67
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.3
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.24
Folate, total [µg]22
Folate, food [µg]22
Folate, DFE [µg]22
Choline, total [mg]13.5
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]56
Carotene, beta [µg]457
Carotene, alpha [µg]438
Vitamin A, IU [IU]1127
Lutein + zeaxanthin [µg]30
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]28.8
Sources include : USDA [3]

Plantain Nutrition Facts

An average-sized plantain provides many critical nutrients for overall health, including 2 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of dietary fiber, as well as significant levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and vitamin B6. This is in addition to slightly lower levels of iron and magnesium. Providing roughly 180 calories, plantain can be a filling and healthy addition to your diet, while adding only .5 grams of fat. An average-sized plantain is relatively high in carbs (47 grams), but this makes them an excellent source for a quick energy boost. [4]

Plantain Health Benefits

The most impressive plantain health benefits are its ability to lower blood pressure, increase circulation, strengthen the immune system, aid the digestive system, and improve sleep, among others.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Potassium is known as a powerful vasodilator, meaning that it can help to relax the tension in blood vessels and arteries. This can reduce strain on the cardiovascular system and lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. [5]

Boosts Immune System

High levels of vitamin C mean that the immune system stays stimulated and produce white blood cells, which can help defend against infection and illness. [6]

Improves Digestion

The dietary fiber found in these fruits can help optimize digestion by stimulating peristaltic motion, improving the nutrient uptake efficiency, and balancing the bacterial levels in the gut. [7]

Regulates Sleep

Magnesium is known to increase the release of tryptophan and serotonin in the body, which can help people relax and sleep, particularly if they suffer from insomnia or regularly interrupted sleep. [8]

Boosts Circulation

These starchy fruits are also high in iron, which is essential for the production of red blood cells. With enough iron in your system, you can avoid the symptoms of anemia and ensure that your extremities and organs are properly oxygenated.

Fights Cancer

A recent 2018 study depicts that plantain has the potential to induce apoptosis in the human colorectal cancer cell lines. This makes it an important part of your daily diet. [9]

Boosts Cognition

Vitamin B6 is known to be a brain-boosting nutrient that can increase blood flow and nerve activity in the brain. Plantains are rich in vitamin B6 and can help improve concentration and memory retention. [10]

Eye Care

Not only are plantains rich in vitamin B6, but also in vitamin A, which has been directly linked to improved eye health in numerous studies. Vitamin A functions as an antioxidant in the body, working to reduce oxidative stress in the eyes, including lowering your risk of macular degeneration and slowing the onset of cataracts. [11]

How to Cook Plantain?

The best way to cook a plantain depends on what stage of ripeness the fruit is at.

Unripe: When it is in the unripe stage, it can be cooked, but it is quite hard, and certainly, it should be fried. It can be made into plantain chips or crackers, and seasoned/flavored with other spices.

Semi-ripe: In a semi-ripe phase, the plantain can be mashed and prepared in the form of plantain waffles or tortillas.

Ripe: When the plantain is ripe, however, it will be significantly sweeter, so it is ideal for desserts, as a replacement for pasta, in plantain brownies or various other sweet dishes.

Plantain Types

There are four main stages of plantain ripening, and in some countries, plantains at different stages are almost treated like they are different fruits. That being said, as explained above, plantains at different stages of ripeness are certainly prepared in varying ways.

  • Green: The unripe fruit is green and is referred to as Platano Verde.
  • Yellow: The semi-ripe fruit is yellow and is referred to as Platano Pinton
  • Dark Brown: The ripe fruit is dark brown, almost black, and is called Platano Maduro.
  • Black: The overripe fruit is black, and is called Platano Negra.
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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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