The plantain is a mixed breed fruit that is a vegetable in some cultures and referred to as the cooking banana. Its origin is Southeast Asia, but it is grown widely. It is a staple food in Africa, southern India and throughout tropical America because of its stability of production and high nutritious value.
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Plantains look similar to a banana, but grow 9 to 12 inches long and are mostly grown year round in tropical climates. Plantain bananas are picked unripe when they are green. Green plantains taste more like a potato with a starchy texture. Because of this, plantains are not suitable for eating raw unless they're very ripe, when they turn completely black, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Plantains are full of flavor when ripe and cooked. You won't get sick if you eat a raw plantain, but uncooked plantains have a bitter taste when eaten raw. They can be bought year round green, yellow or black. The degrees of ripeness are greenish yellow, yellow, brown and black. They are harvested green, but the most ripe plantains are black in color and are easier to peel. Greener plantains have thicker skin and are best peeled under running water.
Plantains can be baked, fried or grilled at any stage. Cut the top and bottom of the cooking banana first when preparing dishes. Recipes will indicate which stage of ripeness you should use. Plantains can be used as a vegetable in stews and casseroles with meats and fish. Green plantains are very firm and can be used in recipes for side dishes. Yellow plantains are both vegetable and fruit and is used in dishes with slightly sweet taste and firm texture. Very ripe plantains are used in a lot of dessert recipes. You may refrigerate plantains two to three days before cooking to slow down the ripening process. Plantains also freeze very well.
Although plantains are harvested green, they continue to ripen when you bring them home. Ripening proceeds rapidly in a warm spot in the kitchen. Watch for mold spots when the plantain turns black. This is very common. Plantains are higher in starch than bananas, low in sugar and is similar to a potato in texture. Plantains have similar nutritive value as fresh bananas plus vitamin A, and are an excellent source of carbohydrates, according to the University of Florida Extension. Plantains are also a good source of vitamin C and are low in sodium and calories.