Ingredient Intelligence

All About Plantains: Different Varieties and How to Cook Them

published Mar 9, 2023
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Plantains, the larger, more rustic cousin of the common Cavendish banana, are an integral ingredient in a variety of cuisines: Latin American, Caribbean, African, and Southeast Asian, just to name a few. They’re hearty, flavorful, and grow in abundance in many countries of the world. Although they resemble a banana in some ways, they cannot be eaten raw. Luckily, there are many delicious ways to prepare this versatile fruit.

What Are Plantains?

Plantains (sometimes called “cooking bananas”) are a tropical fruit believed to have been first cultivated in Southeast Asia. Plantains are related to the common Cavendish banana, and both share some similarities.

Plantains are commonly prepared while either ripened (while they’re yellow with black spots) or unripened (when they’re light green). Plantains are inexpensive and easily accessible at most stores. Many plantains, however, are much larger than the common banana, so they’re easy to recognize. 

What Are the Types of Plantains?

Today, plantains grow in dozens of countries around the world. There are two main varieties of plantain plants: horn and French. Horn plantain bunches are smaller than French, and have fewer fruits. French plantains, on the other hand, have large bunches with many fruits. Globally, plantains account for about 85% of all banana cultivation worldwide.

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One of the many great things about plantains is that there’s a wide range of time during which they are delicious to eat. Generally, plantains are available in green or yellow. These are not technically different types of plantains, but rather plantains that are at different levels of ripeness.

What Do Plantains Taste Like?

Green plantains are underripe, very firm, and savory in flavor. Green plantains tend to have more of a root vegetable–adjacent taste. Yellow plantains are just green plantains that have ripened! Their starches have broken down and developed into sugars, making them very sweet and soft when cooked. Yellow plantains often have many black spots on the outside. In fact, the more black spots on a yellow plantain, the more ripe and sweet it usually is. 

How to Cook Plantains

As with many plants that grow easily and abundantly, countries that play host to the dynamic plantain have devised seemingly endless uses for the fruit. Green plantains are often used to make Latin American dishes like tostones or mofongo, as well as West African dishes like fufu. Green plantains are also commonly sliced thinly and fried to make plantain chips.

Yellow plantains are often sliced into small pieces and deep-fried and eaten as a side dish. The sweetness of fried yellow plantains is often a great accompaniment to a filling savory meal. Dehydrated plantains are used to make flour, which serves as a base for many dishes and is naturally gluten-free.