Plantains 101 – The Basics

Plantains are commonly used in many ethnic cuisines and are found year-round in many grocery stores. If you’ve never eaten them and are just not sure what to do with them, check out the information below. Everything is covered from what they are and their nutritional aspects, to how to freeze them, how to cook with them, what goes well with them, and more. Enjoy!

I hope this helps,

Plantains 101 – The Basics

About Plantains
Plantains are fruits in the banana family. They look like large banana and even smell like the common banana. However, the fruit of the plantain has more starch and less sugar than the common banana and should be cooked before being eaten. It is usually eaten more like a vegetable than a fruit. It is believed to have originated in Southeast Asia. Plantains can be cooked at any stage of ripeness, but it is usually boiled or fried while green, when it contains the most starch.

Nutrition Tidbits
Since plantains are plants, they contain no cholesterol. They are low in fat and sodium, and are good sources of carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B6. One-half cup of cooked plantains has about 80 to 90 calories.

The abundant potassium in plantains makes them an important addition to your diet when needing to control high blood pressure. The potassium also helps with smooth muscle contraction, which helps in heart function and lowers the risk of stroke and kidney disease.

The high fiber content of plantains helps to regulate bowel function warding off bowel diseases. The Vitamin C in plantains helps fight free radical damage in the body and promote tissue repair. The Vitamins A and C give our immune system a boost. The Vitamin B6 helps with brain function and hormones balanced keeping our moods stable and regulate our body’s clock. Most Americans are deficient in magnesium, a mineral that affects calcium absorption and helps to regulate insulin and blood sugar levels. If all this isn’t enough to convince you to at least TRY plantains, I’m not sure what will!

How to Select Plantains
Select those with the fewest blemishes, and avoid any plantains that are cracked or moldy.

How to Store Plantains
Plantains will ripen when left at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. The length of time to ripen will depend upon how ripe they are when purchased. The ripening process can be sped up by placing the plantains in a closed paper bag left at room temperature. Refrigerating plantains will stop the ripening process.

How to Preserve Plantains
Plantains may be frozen and will keep for 8 to 12 months in the freezer. Cut both ends off the plantains and remove the peel. Mash the pulp in a bowl with a fork or potato masher, with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice per fruit. Place the mashed plantain/lemon mixture into an air-tight container and store in the freezer.

How is it usually eaten…raw or cooked?
Unlike their banana cousins, plantains should be cooked before being eaten. However, some people do eat very ripe raw plantains.

How to Prepare Plantains
When preparing plantains, first wash them. With a sharp knife, cut off both ends. Slice the skin lengthwise along the ridges and remove strips of the peel with the knife. Remove any peel that remains on the pulp. From there, the plantain can be cut as needed for the intended use.

Cooking/Serving Ideas
Plantains can be baked, boiled, grilled, roasted or fried. They can be mashed or chopped and added to soups and stews. They can be steamed until soft and pureed for infants or the elderly. They can be dried and ground down into flour. Plantains are often deep-fried into chips. They are also made into curries.

Green plantains have a somewhat hard pulp and the green peel may need to be removed with a knife. At this stage, they are starchy and similar to a potato. This stage is usually used like a potato and is excellent for preparing plantain chips. Green plantains pair well with assertive flavors and fatty meats.

Yellow plantains are slightly sweeter than the green variety. At this stage, they have enough sugar to caramelize a little, but enough firmness to still hold their shape. This stage has some sweet yet savory notes, and pairs well with ingredients that may have both properties, like onions and garlic. A little acid (like lemon, lime, or sour cream) is often applied to or used with yellow plantains. This variety is often fried, boiled, or grilled.

Black plantains are still quite good to eat. They are at their sweetest and softest point when the peel is black. Black plantains are usually baked and incorporated into some type of dessert. Once a plantain ripens to this point, it will quickly decay, like a black banana.

To boil green plantains: Wash and cut off ends. Keep skin on and cut into 1 inch disks, then boil over medium heat for about 20-30 minutes until the slices are fork tender and the color is an even yellow. Remove from heat and let cool enough to remove the peel, which should be released easily. These are eaten on their own or can be served with butter, oil and salt, sprinkled with cheese, or served with avocado based dips, salsas or in place of potatoes or sweet potatoes in meals. Boiled mashed green plantains are often served for breakfast with eggs.

To fry plantains: Wash and peel. Remove ends and cut into ½ inch to one inch pieces. Using enough vegetable oil to lightly cover the pan, fry over medium heat using tongs to avoid being splashed by hot oil with turning. Cook until golden about 4-6 minutes, and serve with either salt or cinnamon.

To bake or roast: Peel and bake whole in 400°F oven for 30-40 minutes until fork tender.

Plantains are also often dried and ground into a flour also known as banana flour. Where plantains are commonly enjoyed, this flour is mixed with milk and served as a first food for infants.

Tips for Using Plantains
* Plantains take longer to ripen than regular bananas, but the good news is that there are many ways of cooking them at each stage of ripening – meaning you will never be left with one that is unusable.

* Plantains are an excellent source of fiber. They are also low in fat, gluten free and cholesterol free.

* When deep-fried, ripe plantains, are enjoyed as chips and are a popular snack all over the world.

* Plantains can be fried, boiled, grilled or baked/roasted in the oven.

* When a plantain fully ripens, it quickly decays, similar to a banana.

What Goes Well With Green Plantains
Herbs/Spices: Cardamom, chili powder, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry, garam masala, garlic, ginger, paprika, black pepper, salt, thyme

Foods: Avocados, bacon, beans (ie black and pinto beans), butter, cheese, chicken, chickpeas, chiles, coconut and coconut cream, eggs, tropical fruits, lime, molasses, mole sauces, oils, onions, pork, rice, salsa, scallions, shallots, tomatoes, yogurt

Cuisines: African, Caribbean, Central American, Mexican, Puerto Rican

Specific Dishes: Chips, soups, stews, Tostones (fried plantains)

What Goes Well With Sweet (Yellow or Brown) Plantains
Herbs/Spices: Allspice, butter and browned butter, cardamom, chocolate, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, black pepper, salt, scallions, star anise, vanilla

Foods: Black beans, bell peppers, coconut milk, dairy, tropical fruits, honey, ice cream, lemon, lime, molasses, olive oil, red onions, orange, raisins, rice, rum, scallions, sugar

Cuisines: African, Central American, Cuban (especially desserts), Mexican

Specific Dishes: Desserts and puddings, soups, vegetable stews

Recipe Links
Fried Plantain Chips (Chifles)

Plantain and Coconut Pancakes

Fried Plantains

Plantain Soup

Tostones: Twice Fried Green Plantains

Spicy Plantain Curry

Chapo (A Ripe Plantain Peruvian Beverage)

Plantain Recipes

Three Tasty Ways to Eat Ripe Plantains

How to Cook Plantains: Two Simple and Delicious Ways

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.


Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

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