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 a number of unique characteristics, several health benefits, and nutritional components that make the distinction evident!
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What is a Plantain?
Bearing the scientific name Musa paradisiaca, plantains are a member of the banana family but are typically prepared in different ways and have a 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.
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 a number of other health benefits.
Difference Between Banana & Plantain
Plantains are closely related to bananas, but there are a number of key differences. Plantains tend to be more dull yellow in color 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.
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.
Plantain Nutrition Facts
An average-sized plantain provides a number of 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, a 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.
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.
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.
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.
Vitamin C can function as an antioxidant in the body and will seek out free radicals that drive mutation and increase oxidative stress in the cells. This will reduce your chances of developing chronic diseases, including cancer.
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.
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.
How to Cook Plantain?
The best way to cook a plantain depends on what stage of ripeness the fruit is at. When it is in the unripe stage, it can be cooked, but it is quite hard, and certainly, should be fried. It can be made into plantain chips or crackers, and seasoned/flavored with other spices.
In a semi-ripe phase, the plantain can be mashed and prepared in the form of plantain waffles or tortillas.
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.
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.