Ingredient Intelligence

How Are Plantains Different from Bananas?

published Mar 6, 2023
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a photo of plantains and a photo of bunches of bananas
Credit: Sergio Amiti/Getty Images, Fabian Krause/EyeEm/Getty Images

If you were in the grocery store and looked toward the produce section from a distance, you might notice what looks like a bin of bananas — but it’s very likely you could be looking at plantains! Although they are similar in appearance, and indeed both belong to the banana family called Musaceae, the differences between bananas and plantains are remarkable. 

Plantains vs. Bananas: What’s the Difference?

Plantains and bananas make look similar, but they have very noticeable differences. The difference between plantains and bananas lies in their flavor, texture, size, and where they’re grown. Plantains tend to be larger than bananas and are eaten ripe or unripe (while sweet or savory), while bananas are only eaten when they are ripe and sweet. Read more on the differences between plantains and bananas below.

How and Where They Are Grown

Bananas are grown in about 135 countries, but primarily in India and China. Plantains, on the other hand, are grown primarily in Africa, but also in Colombia and other South American countries. Bananas and plantains both grow in bunches (called “hands”) from a tree, in countries that have humid and tropical climates. 

Flavor, Texture, and Use

Bananas can be eaten raw, whereas plantains, at any stage of ripeness, need to be cooked in order to be eaten. Bananas are often softer and creamier than plantains, whereas plantains are generally starchier, and have a more mild flavor. 

When plantains are green, they are used in savory dishes, and even when they’re yellow and sweet, they are still typically served as an accompaniment to savory food. Bananas, on the other hand, are almost always either eaten with breakfast, or incorporated into dessert.

Do Plantains and Bananas Taste the Same?

Generally speaking, plantains and bananas do not taste the same, especially when they’re at different stages of ripeness. A ripe banana is soft and sweet, although when it becomes more ripe it will become even sweeter. A ripe plantain is very soft and sweet, sometimes more so than a ripe banana. Unripened bananas, will likely have a little bit sweetness, while an unripened plantain is not sweet at all and has a starchy flavor.

How to Know When They’re Ripe

Unlike plantains, the Cavendish banana is best eaten when ripe. Plantains, on the other hand, are delicious in all stages of ripeness. Plantains and bananas both display similar stages of ripeness.

Bananas that are greenish-yellow are unripe. When bananas turn to a true yellow and sometimes have a few black spots, this means they are ripe. Ripe bananas are sweet and soften the more they ripen. Color is the clearest indication that your plantains and bananas have ripened and are more sweet.

Plantains that are green and very firm are unripe. You’ll know when plantains have ripened whey they have turned yellow with many black spots all around the peel. At this point, they are very soft and sweet, often more than a ripe banana.