Plantains are the less sweet, starchier equivalent to the banana. Sweet bananas, sometimes called “dessert bananas” are much more popular in the United States and Europe, but plantains are an extremely important staple for people in tropical countries.The nutritional content of plantains varies depending on their level of ripeness and how they’re prepared. Plantains can either be a high-fiber and nutritious choice, or a salty, fried snack food.
Unlike dessert bananas, plantains are almost always cooked before eating. In fact, they taste more like an uncooked potato than a banana.
Cooked plantains are nutritionally very similar to a potato, calorie-wise, but contain more of certain vitamins and minerals. They’re a rich source of fiber, vitamins A, C, and B6, and the minerals magnesium and potassium. Plantains can be used when ripe (yellow) or unripe (green).
- Calories: 215
- Fat: 0.22g
- Sodium: 8mg
- Carbohydrates: 58g
- Fiber: 3g
- Sugars: 22g
- Protein: 2g
- Potassium 663mg
- Vitamin C 23mg
- Vitamin A 63ug
- Vitamin B6 0.29mg
- Magnesium 57m
Plantains provide lots of carbohydrates. A medium green plantain (boiled) has 70 total grams of carbs, with 5 grams of fiber and 31 grams of natural sugar. As plantains ripen, fiber content goes down and sugar content increases. Carbohydrates aren’t necessarily a bad thing for weight management like most people believe. The fiber and starch found in plantains are complex carbs. Fiber and complex carbs are less processed and more slowly digested than the simple carbs found in processed foods. They keep you fuller and more satisfied for longer after a meal.
The high level of resistant starch gives plantains a low glycemic index of about 38.5 (ripe raw plantains) to 44.9 (boiled unripe plantain). Resistant starch doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. By slowing down digestion, promoting satiety, and enhancing “good” gut bacteria, the resistant starch in plantains promotes glycemic control.
Plantains are a good source of potassium, which is an important mineral that reduces hypertension. One medium-sized boiled plantain has 1,040 milligrams of potassium. Most adults need between 2600–3400 milligrams per day. The potassium you can find in plantains is essential for maintaining the cell and body fluids that control your heart rate and blood pressure.
Plantains provide iron and vitamin C, two micronutrients that work together to optimize absorption. Although iron from plant sources is not usually as easily absorbed, vitamin C increases its bioavailability.
Plantain allergies often overlap with banana allergies, as the two fruits are in the same botanical family. Symptoms may appear shortly after eating plantains and include itching of the mouth and throat, hives, swelling, or wheezing.
The resistant starch in plantains may make them difficult to digest. Green, raw plantains are especially high in resistant starch. If you’re not used to eating a lot of fiber, plantains can cause discomfort like gas, bloating, and constipation. Increase your intake slowly, allow plantains to fully ripen, and cook before eating to reduce digestive distress.
How to Buy
There are two general varieties of plantains: the horn plantain and the French plantain. Find fresh plantains or plantain products in your co-op or grocery store. Because plantains are popular in different cultural dishes (including Asian, Spanish, Caribbean, and African cuisines) you may be more likely to find them in ethnic grocery stores.
Choosing the right plantain depends on how you plan to use it. If you are going to cook with plantains (to make plantain chips, for example), look for green fruit that’s firm and heavy.
Once a plantain turns yellow with brown or black spots, they become softer and sweeter. Use ripe plantains more like bananas. Green plantains ripen in a few days at room temperature. Avoid buying plantains that are bruised, overripe, or have broken peels.
How to Store
Plantains can be stored fresh, frozen, or dried. If plantains are at peak ripeness but you’re not ready to use them yet, place in the refrigerator for a few extra days. If plantains are unripe, you can leave them on the counter out of direct sunlight to ripen at room temperature.
To freeze plantains, remove the peel and store in an airtight container in the freezer. Dehydrated plantains should be stored at room temperature in low humidity.
How to Cook
Plantains are naturally low in fat, but easily absorb oil when cooked in it. Fried plantains are a high-fat food. Try baking plantain chips with limited oil for a lighter snack
If you have a favorite banana bread or banana muffin recipe, you can use ripe plantains instead. Some recipes call for plantain skins to be washed and left on for cooking. Plantains are popular in Puerto Rican cuisine. Classic Latin dishes include mofongo (mashed and fried plantains) and tostones (twice-fried plantains).
Try making your own healthy version of baked plantain chips. You’ll need:
- 2–3 green plantains
- Olive or avocado oil
- Sea salt or your favorite spice
Peel and thinly slice the plantains. Use a mandolin or the side of a cheese shredder. Place the slices in a bowl and sprinkle with 1–2 tablespoons of oil.
Lay the slices on a non-stick baking sheet (or use parchment paper). Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until crispy.