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4 Different Types of Plantains

A collage of various plantains.

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and bought what you thought were green bananas only to get them home and think there is something wrong with them? Most likely, you purchased plantains. But unfortunately, they look incredibly similar to bananas, and if you pick up a bunch of green ones without paying close attention, it is easy to mistake them. 

That is until you try to peel them. Then you suddenly realize what you thought was a banana is not. It has happened to me, and it probably has happened to you.

When prepared the right way, plantains can be a delicious treat. Continue reading to find out more about plantains and the different types. 

What are Plantains?

Banana sold on the side street.

Plantains look similar to large bananas. They are often mistaken for bananas because they are closely related to them. Plantains are from the Musaceae family, which is the banana family.

While a plantain is a fruit, it is more often eaten cooked like a vegetable. 

Plantains are difficult to peel and are not eaten raw. They should be cooked to be eaten. They are inexpensive and completely versatile.

They are thought to be native to Southeast Asia and grow in tropical regions. They are used in various types of dishes and a variety of cuisines. 

Plantains that are green to yellow are not ripe. They are starchy and difficult to peel. The fruit is hard and best when fried or boiled.

Plantains are black when fully ripe and have a flavor that is close to a banana but not sweet.

You will find plantains in bunches, just like bananas. These bunches are called hands.

The trees on which plantains grow vary between 12 feet to 25 feet. They have leaves that are broad and may be up to two feet wide. 

Types of Plantains

Fried banana on a wrapping paper.

1. French

French plantains grow in tropical lowlands, which are usually wet and hot. French plantains require a minimum of 4 inches of rain each month to grow tall and produce the most fruit.

Another name for the French plantain is Hambra. This type of plantain grows hands of fruit that contains small fingers.

Subcategories of French plantain include Great, Medium, Dwarf, and Semi-dwarf. 

2. Horn

The ripe banana on the plate.

The Horn plantain contains true types and false types. The French Horn is a false type. You may even hear it referred to as Macho. This name is commonly used in Central America.

The horn variety produces a small number of hands of fruit, but they are large. The African Rhino is a horn plantain that grows in Africa. It is a staple of food in that area. 

3. Pelipita

Pelipita is a commercial version of the plantain. It is able to resist the black Sigatoka, which is a disease that impacts plantains. It is a commercial variety and is resistant to Panama disease.

This disease is commonly known as banana wilt. Banana wilt is a disease that plagues plantations in Columbia, the Canary Islands, and Central America. 

4. Saba 

Saba is the type of plantain that is grown in the Philippines. They are smaller than plantains grow in South and Central America. This type of plantain is resistant to black Sigatoka, which is a serious disease that causes leaf spots. 

The quality of the fruit from the Saba plantain is not as good as horn plantains, even though it looks a lot like them. 

What is the Difference Between a Plantain and a Banana?

While bananas and plantains come from the same family and look very similar, there are some major differences between the two fruits. Plantains are typically a larger size than bananas. As a result, you can easily peel a banana with your hands.

Plantains, on the other hand, have a stronger skin, and you need a knife to cut them open. It does not matter if it is ripe or not; you still need a knife. 

The fruits do have some other similarities in addition to the way they look. They are both firm and drier when not ripe.

They both get creamy and smooth as they ripen. Both plantains and bananas are good sources of magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. 

What is the Best Way to Peel a Plantain?

An old man peeling a banana on a chop board.

You cannot peel a plantain the say way that you peel a banana, especially not a green plantain. The skin of a plantain is much thicker, and you need a knife.

If you attempt to peel the skin with your hands, it may not budge, or you will get it half peeled. You will find that you remove the top part of the peel but leave a layer behind. 

Instead, it would be best if you used a paring knife. The first step to take is to cut off both ends of the plantain. Then, you want to score the skin of the plantain, being careful not to cut into the flesh.

Finally, you want to score along the seams, which equals four times. 

You can put the blade of your knife into one of the lines that you scored and pry off the skin. You still want to be careful not to cut the flesh of the plantain. A

fter you have pried up a full section of the peel, you can get the rest of the skin up but sliding your fingers under the skin and lifting it. You should be able to get the skin off in four whole sectioned pieces.

Peeling a plantain does require some patience, especially until you learn the technique. You want to do your best not to use your nails because the plantain can get nasty and stuck under your nails.

You could also hurt your fingers. If you are not able to use your fingers, go back to the knife. You can use this technique on all plantains, even the ripe ones.

How Can I Tell if a Plantain Is Ripe?

Ripe yellow banana with black spots.

It is much easier to determine if plantain is ripe than you might think. You may even think that plantain has gone bad when really, it is ripe. When plantains look like they are bad is when they are the sweetest. 

A ripe plantain is black with just a bit of yellow. It is firm to the touch. You can squeeze it like you would squeeze a peach.

When a plantain is completely black, it is still good to eat. However, they become soft at this stage, which makes them difficult to prepare. Soft plantains taste sweet and delicious. 

It is challenging to find ripe plantains at the store. You most likely will buy them when they are green and have to leave them to ripen.

You can leave them on the counter, and they will ripen. Depending on the time of year, it could take a couple of days to a whole week. 

What is the Best Way To Eat a Plantain?

There is really no wrong way to eat a plantain. It really depends on your personal preference and where the plantain is as far as its ripeness goes. You can eat it just about any way except raw. 

The simplest way to eat plantain, regardless if it is ripe or not, is to fry it. When they are green, they have a ton of starch and are best when twice fried. They can be thinly sliced and fried to create plantain chips at this stage.

When they begin to ripen, the starch turns to sugar. When you fry them at this point, the sugar caramelizes and creates a crispy and sweet edge. 

How are Plantains Prepared?

There are many dishes where plantains are a central ingredient. Plantains are a versatile fruit that can be eaten as a sweet or savory treat. There are many different ways to use the plantain, and certain regions prepare specific dishes with plantains. 

This list is just a handful of the amazing meals using plantains. The dishes below are not an exhaustive list of all the ways you can prepare a plantain. 

1. Fufu

Fufu a West African porridge on a plate.

Fufu is a West African porridge that is made with sweet potato, yam, cassava, taro, or maize. In areas where plantains are plentiful, this dish is made with pounded and boiled plantains. This dish goes by other names, such as foofoo, ugali, posho, and nsima.

2. Pasteles

Pasteles a dish in the Dominican Republic.

Pasteles are a typical dish in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. It is their version of a tamale. Pasteles are made with a masa a, grated and unripened plantains that are stuffed with pork.

Then it is flavored with annatto oil and wrapped in the leaves of plantains. 

3. Plantain Chips

Plantain Chips, baked banana on a wooden bowl.

Plantain Chips are a crunchy and savory snack. They are similar to banana chips but not as sweet and often not as thick.

These chips are thinly sliced from green plantains and fried until they are crispy. Then, they are seasoned with salt.

You can often find them with other seasonings, like garlic or pepper. In areas in South and Central America, these are called tajadas, and they are longer.

4. Plátanos Maduros

Fried banana stuffed with cheese.

Plátanos Maduros is a sweet plantain dish. It is caramelized dish that includes pieces of plantains that are cut on a bias and fried. Plátanos Maduros is a staple in the Caribbean, West Africa, and Latin America. 

5. Mofongo

Mofongo a dish in Puerto Rico.

Mofongo is a typical dish in Puerto Rico. It is a dish made from fried plantains. In this meal, green plantains are mashed with oil, salt, and garlic. When it is made, it is a dome shape that is served with pork skin, broth, vegetables, and meat. 

6. Rellenitos de Plátano

Rellenitos de Plátano a dish in Guatemala.

Rellenitos de Plátano is a favorite dish in Guatemala. It is made of boiled and mashed ripe plantains that are mixed with black beans that are sweetened. After that, they are fried and served as a dessert. 

7. Tostones

Tostones on a wooden plate and a green banana.

Tostones are one of the most common ways to prepare plantains. This dish consists of slices of plantains that are not yet ripe that have been twice-fried.

They are fried once under tender, then smashed, and fried again. This time they are fried until golden and crisp. 

Tostones are often a side dish. In Haiti, they are called bannann peze. In Venezuela and Colombia, they are called patacones.