Most of us think of them as trees, but bananas and plantains are actually giant evergreen herbs. There are over 500 varieties of bananas and plantains. Some varieties grow to nearly 30 feet in height, but most commercial varieties reach only 10 to 15 feet. Although the main plant dies after producing fruit, I consider it a perennial because one or more suckers growing at its base successively replace the mother plant without need for replanting and will produce the next crop. Commercial growers select the strongest sucker at the base of the plant and remove all others. This ensures that the new plant succeeding the mother plant will be the best bearer.
Plantains are cultivated in more than 120 countries and are a major staple food throughout the tropics. When banana and plantain production is combined, it is the world’s number one fruit crop. A prolific producer, an acre of land can yield as much as two tons of plantains. Plantains are low in sodium, rich in potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C and are a good source of fiber. A cup of cooked plantains is only 125 calories.
Plantains have long been valued throughout Latin America as a folk remedy for stomach ailments, and now scientists agree. Research suggests that plantains are beneficial in the prevention and treatment of ulcers, diarrhea and constipation. They are also used to treat dehydration in infants, as well as asthma and bronchitis. The plantain’s roots, leaves, flowers and seeds all have medicinal uses.
PLANTAINS – STAGES OF RIPENESS AND USES
Plantains can be eaten at different stages of ripeness, their flavor and uses differ depending on how ripe they are. Plantains are always cooked; never eaten raw. When the peel of a plantain is green to yellow, the flavor of the flesh is bland and its texture is starchy. As the plantain ripens its high starch content changes to sugar and the peel changes to brown or black. The interior color of the fruit remains creamy and white to yellow in color, but it now has a sweet flavor and banana aroma. To hasten ripening store plantains in a loosely closed brown paper bag. A plantain will fully ripen in one to two weeks depending on the temperature where they are stored. Do not refrigerate them unless they are at just the stage of ripeness you want to use, because the chill will stop them from ripening further.
Watch a video on the stages of plantain ripeness
PLATANO VERDE (GREEN STAGE)
When green, the plantain is like a starchy vegetable with qualities similar to a potato. When a plantain’s skin is bright green and it feels firm to the touch it’s perfect for making delicious snack treats – tostones and plantain chips and for making a delicious soup.
» check out recipes and videos for platano verde
PLATANO PINTON (SEMI-RIPE STAGE)
Before the plantain completely ripens and is ready for use in the recipes calling for sweet plantains it goes through a stage we call pinton. It is no longer green, but it’s not ripe yet either. A plantain is pinton when the skin is yellow with brown spots and its flesh is firm but not hard to the touch — it will yield when you squeeze it. Plantains in this in between state are ideal for making fufu – mashed plantains.
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PLATANO MADURO (RIPE STAGE)
As the plantain ripens, it gets sweet almost like a banana. When the plantain’s skin is dark yellow to brown, the ends are black and it feels soft to the touch when you squeeze it, it is perfect for making other delightful treats – you can make fried sweet plantains to accompany any meal, feature them in a special omelet for breakfast or make them up and form them into delicious plantain balls for an appetizer.
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PLATANO NEGRA (VERY RIPE STAGE)
When a banana’s skin gets black, it may be time to throw it away. But don’t throw out the plantain. While it may look bad on the outside – black skin, very soft and even sticky to the touch, it’s still delicious on the inside and has just reached the perfect stage for making a couple of my favorite desserts – Temptation Plantains and Plantain Bread Pudding.
» check out recipes and videos for platano negra