Plantains [Cooking Banana; Musa acuminata x balbisiana (AAB and ABB groups), formerly Musa paradisiaca]

This is a culinary classification of bananas, and not a specific scientific definition. This name is applied to bananas that are starchier and less sweet than "desert" bananas like Cavendish. Plantains are most often cooked while still green or somewhat green, but are also cooked when yellow, depending on taste and texture desired. They are still quite firm when solid yellow and can still be fried in that state. Some recipes call for them ripe, when they will be solid black and finally have softened. The flesh tends to be a little orange in color. The average plantain sold in North America is about 12 inches long and weighs about 9-3/4 ounces.

Plantain Stems & Shoots:   Stems are eaten particularly in southern India (Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala). When the bunch of bananas is harvested, the plant is cut down and layers peeled off to get to the tender central stalk. This is chopped and prepared in salads and curries. The outer layers are used for binding string and for weaving mats. Young immature Shoots are sometimes cooked and eaten in Ethiopia.

Plantain Roots:   Root corms are sometimes eaten in Ethiopia, but not as commonly as those of the related Enset. They are soft and starchy just before the flowering stage.

Plantain Leaves & Blossoms:   These are used the same as those of other bananas.

Hand of Saba Philippine Plantain

[Saba Banana, Carababa Banana, Philippine Plantain; Musa acuminata x balbisiana (ABB group)]

These are much smaller than the more common plantains and rather boxy in shape. The photo specimens were between 6 and 6-1/2 inches long (not counting stem) and weighed about 6-1/4 ounces. A 6-1/4 ounce specimen yielded 3 ounces peeled (48%). In the yellow state shown they were rather firm, starchy and not particularly sweet. This plantain is used widely for sweets and savories. Large South American plantains are now grown in the southern Philippines but have not yet caught on yet because their size makes them awkward for the most common use, and because many people are unaware they become sweet enough for their other uses when solid black.

More on Bananas.

Plantains are starchier, firmer and less sweet than desert bananas so they are most often cooked rather than eaten raw out of hand. Personally I rather like them just peeled, because I like my fruit snacks a bit less sweet than many do. In southern India the peels are diced small and used in some recipes, but I haven't yet found what kind of recipes.

Buying:   Plantains are so important to so many tropical cuisines they are available even in some supermarkets in any region that has significant ethnic populations. They ripen fairly slowly, so buy them near the condition you need if you can. They are firm enough to slice and fry from solid green to solid yellow but soften as they turn black.

Prep:   They peel just like regular bananas. Slice per the recipe you have chosen.

Cooking:   Because plantains are a staple starch in the tropics worldwide, taking the place potatoes have in more temperate climes, there are many hundreds of ways to cook them. Plantains are most commonly fried in oil until golden brown, then eaten as is or included in recipes. They are often served as a side dish just as potatoes are. They may also be sliced thin and fried crisp like potato chips.

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