(Musa x paradisiaca ssp. sapientum— Family Musaceae)
Plantain, Adam’s fig, jumbos, vegetable banana, kayla, cooking banana, plátano, plátano macho
is a name given to a group of small leafy plants of the genus Plantago. Previously, the term ‘plantain’ applied only to the cooking varieties of banana, of which there is no connection. The name is derived from “planta” which means sole of the foot, referring to the foot-shaped leaves used as a leafy, green vegetable.
Plantain is the name given to a variety of banana which is suitable only for cooking. The tree
looks like a palm tree, but the trunk is made up of spirally arranged, tightly overlapping broad leaves that form at ground level. The real stem is a large underground rhizome with massive roots.
The trunk supports a constantly emerging mass of shreddy upper leaves, then a developing stem, and lastly, clusters or hands of fruits. When the fruit is picked, the plant is cut down or dies back. It develops suckers that form a new “trunk”; and the cycle repeats, sometimes for as long as fifty years.
The banana may be more important on a worldwide scale, but the plantain is a staple food in many Third World countries, as it is rich in starch.
Plantains often grow to twice the size of bananas, but are squatter in shape and have three defined ridges. Some can grow to lengths of two feet, and taste dry, sweet, or sweet and sour.
The flesh is coarser and more savory than that of a banana, and remain firm even when very ripe. Depending on their ripeness, plantains can be green, yellow, or black. Some varieties ripen from pink to red.
An unripe plantain tastes like a raw squash or potato and more starchy than sweet. A ripe black plantain has a sweeter more banana-flavour, but still predominantly starchy in texture and should be used immediately or frozen for later use. Unripe bananas can be used in place of any recipe calling for plantain. When cooked,
plantains are quite tasty.
Although bananas may be referred to as a perfect food (which they are not), plantains are even more so, containing ten times more beta carotene than bananas, as well as having a good supply of Vitamins A, C, B6, potassium, folate, iron, and magnesium.
The amount of Vitamin A in the fruit depends on the colour. The yellower the flesh, the more Vitamin A it contains. A deep yellow fruit can provide as much as 1200 IU’s of Vitamin A in a 3.5 ounce serving, while a pale one will only have 10 IU.
In the Caribbean, plantains have long been used as a remedy for stomach upsets; and, in 1984, researchers in England found out why. Plantains can reduce the severity of ulcers and even heal them if used properly; but only the green,
unripe plantains have the necessary enzymes for these healing purposes.
The fruit is very versatile as each phase of ripeness has different characteristics and culinary possibilities. When the skin is green to nearly yellow, plantain is solid and starchy. When the skin is yellow to mottled brown, it has a slight fruitiness and is more tender, but still firm. After it turns brown to black-ripe, the golden flesh becomes creamy and sweet; but it still holds it shape when cooked, unlike the common banana.
Plantains can be difficult to peel and usually require a knife. They can be sliced, sautéed, or baked; but, if baked whole, the skin needs to be pierced to prevent bursting.
Plantains go well with onions, garlic, and hot peppers, as well as a variety of other herbs and spices. They are used as a staple in place of potatoes or along with numerous Mexican dishes, especially filled tortillas.
Plantains can also be mashed with apples or squash to make desserts. The rounded spiked flowers,
also called hearts, are male and only rarely available; but, when they are, they can be prepared like globe artichoke.
The edible part, which is inside the outer reddish petals, is boiled; and the fleshy leaves are dipped in a spicy sauce or boiled whole and roasted. After cooking, this firm, but tender, heart can also be cut into thin slices and used in salads.
In East Africa, the plantain is treated like any other starchy vegetable. It is pounded and boiled or sliced and sundried to make the native bland porridge called fu-fu.
There are various types of plantains found around the world. The ripe seeds and husks of two common plantain plants (Plantago ovata; P. afra) are both grown in India for large-scale commercial use in the laxative industy.
called psyllium husks, contain a mucilage which helps alleviate constipation by attracting and absorbing water in the digestive tract, thereby lubricating it. Most often, it is sold as a ground powder which is better than the seed for the digestive tract.
A West Indian variety called the “hundred pound plantain” is an obvious exaggeration, but it can be two feet long.
apple, or frog plantain is short, thick, and boxy; while the horn plantain is long and pointed. All are rigid and starchy and cannot be enjoyed raw. Cooked, however, they become delicious. Africa produces 75% of the world’s supply of plantain, followed by South America, North and Central America, and Asia.