17 Oct The Plantain: Fruit or Vegetable?
Is the plantain a fruit or vegetable? For many, the first exposure to a plantain is in the produce section of their local grocery store when they see a funny-looking banana. Upon further examination, it becomes clear that this “banana” seems larger, has a thicker skin, and unlike the smooth, yellow bananas typically found in grocery stores, these larger plantains are available in a range of colors as they ripen, from green to yellow to mostly black. It is clearly related to the banana, but if it isn’t a banana, then what is it? Is it even a fruit?
According to Fruits and Veggies- More Matters—a health initiative spearheaded by the Produce for Better Health Foundation in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)—the plantain is actually a…fruit!
The plantain is member of the Musa genus, which also includes bananas. These flowering plants grow large stems with overlapping leaf sheathes that give them a woody tree-like appearance, and in reality, they actually grow in a way more akin to herbs.
The confusion over the plantain’s food-type status likely comes from the fact that it is traditionally used more like a vegetable, as a side dish or accompaniment, and it needs to be cooked before consumption. Plantains can be boiled, baked, or fried, both when ripe and in their green state.
Each cooking method offers a unique experience. Green boiled plantains can be mashed and served in dishes like Mofongo, a traditional dish from Puerto Rico or flattened and fried to make a toston—delicious with a dash of salt and often served with cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole or a protein as an appetizer.
However, when ripe, plantains offer a whole other experience. Ripe plantains naturally caramelize when fried or baked. They taste naturally sweet and are traditionally served whole or in slices. Ripe plantains are becoming immensely popular in mainstream menus across the United States and, more recently, in Canada and Europe, in part thanks to Celebrity Chefs like Rachel Ray, Bobbie Flay, and Martha Stewart, all of whom have offered recipes with this versatile fruit. One of our favorites is the Plantain-Stuffed Pork Loin as featured by Martha Stewart.
The plantain is consumed world-wide and is a major food staple in Southeast Asia, West and Central Africa, Central America, the Caribbean Islands, and regions of South America. Its appeal comes in part from the fact that this tropical fruit grows year-round.
The plantain has many of the same nutritional benefits of the banana, and in its raw state is fat-free, cholesterol-free, and high in potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C.
At MIC Food, we love both ripe and green plantains for their ability to be creatively purposed and prepared. Check out our recipe page for ideas and contact us to send us questions or learn more about plantains and other tropical products.