Plantain vs. Banana: Um, What’s the Difference? Asking for a Friend…
You’re daydreaming about whipping up your famous banana bread while grocery shopping. You make a beeline to the produce section and pick up what looks like the thickest, biggest banana you’ve ever seen. You only realize it’s an entirely different fruit once you reach the checkout line. You’re not alone—and if you’ve never cooked with plantains before, you’re in for a treat. Here, we’ll settle the plantain vs. banana debate, breaking down the differences between the two, and how they stack up nutritionally, so you don’t mix them up again. Plus, we’ll share a few recipes you need to try ASAP, whether you’re into savory tostones, sweet maduros or are looking for a quick, healthy dinner idea.
What Are Plantains?
While they look like hefty bananas, they’re far from it. Plantains are originally from Southeast Asia, like the bananas you’re familiar with (known as Cavendish bananas, if you’re fancy), but are now grown all over the world. They’re most common in Latin and African cuisines.
Plantain vs. Banana: What’s the Difference?
- Though they’re both technically types of banana, they look distinctly different. Both fruits have thick outer peels that start out green, turn yellow as they ripen and dark brown to black once they’re overripe. But plantains are much thicker, tougher and bigger than bananas. (You’ll need a knife to peel one.)
- Plantains aren’t sweet. Rather than being soft and sweet when ripe, plantains are starchy. In flavor and texture, they’re more similar to yuca, yams or potatoes than they are bananas. Plantains do get slightly sweeter as they ripen (and can caramelize when cooked once overripe), but never lose their vegetal flavor profile.
- Bananas can be eaten raw. All it takes to eat a banana is peeling off the skin and chowing down. But that’s not the case with plantains. Due to how thick and starchy they are, they need to be cooked before they’re consumed. Plantains are arguably most beloved in their fried form, but there are a ton of different ways to cook them.
- They have different culinary uses. Because bananas are sweet, they’re commonly found in baked goods and desserts, as well as consumed raw in dishes like smoothies, oatmeal, peanut butter sandwiches or fruit salad. Plantains, though they’re fruit, are more similar to vegetables in terms of how they’re used. They’re usually eaten as a side after being boiled, fried or baked.
- Bananas have a smaller window of usability. Unless you’re baking banana bread (we see that black bunch rotting away on your counter…), bananas are at peak deliciousness when they’re ripe and yellow. Plantains, on the other hand, have multiple popular uses when underripe, ripe and even overripe. For instance, tostones (aka plantain fritters, a common Latin side dish) are always made from green, underripe plantains, while maduros (caramelized sweet plantains, a Latin dish that literally translates to “mature”) are always made with ripe or overripe plantains. Plantains also take way longer to go from green to black than bananas do, so there’s no pressure if you end up not using them as quickly as you planned.
Which Is Healthier?
Both bananas and plantains are pretty impressive nutritionally. They’re packed with vitamin C, magnesium, fiber and potassium, a mineral that could help reduce your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Bananas are higher in sugar, which you likely could have guessed from their flavor alone. Plantains are slightly higher in calories and carbs than bananas, and those numbers tend to climb once they’re cooked.
That’s the catch: While neither is exactly superior to the other in their raw form, plantains need to be cooked to be consumed. So, depending on how they’re prepared, they can become far less healthy than raw bananas. But that’s a risk we’re willing to take in the name of mofongo (aka garlicky mashed plantains).
Can You Substitute Plantain for Banana?
We suppose it really depends on the recipe, but 99 percent of the time, the answer is no. They have totally different textures and flavor profiles, so you’ll likely be disappointed if you swap one for the other.
How to Cook Plantains
Before you get to work, you’ll have to peel the plantain first. Green plantains are tougher to peel, so you’ll need to use a kitchen knife to cut off the ends, score it along its ribs, then remove each strip of skin one at a time (or just slice it once from one end to the other and peel it off sideways in one long piece under running water if it’s soft enough). If you’re working with brown or black plantains, the skin should be thinner and easier to remove—but a knife will still be helpful.
There’s no shortage of ways to prepare plantains, but here are a few common methods:
1. Frying: All it takes is peeling and slicing the plantains into rounds or diagonal slices, then using tongs to dunk them in hot oil. The easiest way to enjoy fried plantains is to slice them super thin and turn them into chips. To make tostones (also called patacones in some Latin countries), you’ll have to fry pieces of underripe green plantain, then mash each one straight down until it forms a round patty and fry them for a second time. For mofongo, you’ll need to crush the fried, underripe plantains (ideally with a mortar and pestle) and form them into balls. Green plantains can also be turned into a batter and fried, like for puff puff, a popular street food common in West Africa.
To make maduros, you’ll have to use very ripe or overripe plantains. And they’re even easier to make since there’s no mashing involved: just slice and fry until they turn golden brown and caramelized.
2. Baking: Plantains can be baked in halves or slices. This method is particularly solid for maduros, since it allows all of the sticky sugars that surfaced as the plantain ripened to come out. That makes for crispy edges and a soft caramelized interior. (Pro tip: Brown them on the stove first so they get a nice sugary sear before baking in the oven.) There’s also always the banana bread route: Plantain bread is totally a thing.
3. Boiling: Simply bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add halved, peeled plantains. Let them cook until tender. This method is great for green, underripe plantains—sweet plantains would turn to mush. Boiling is commonly used for West African porridges, like foo-foo (also called ugali or posho) or asaro (yam porridge). Boiled plantains are also the star of mangú, a traditional breakfast from the Dominican Republic topped with eggs, salami and fried cheese.
4. Roasting: Roasting turns plantain slices fork-tender while also giving them a crispy, golden outer crust. Just toss the plantain slices in oil and salt before popping them in a 400°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes. We love this method for plantain tacos. You can also roast whole, unpeeled plantains by scoring them and wrapping them in foil instead, just like corn on the cob.
5. Grilling: Since the heat on a barbecue or grill is searing hot and direct, it’s best for ripe plantains that are already a little soft. Halve the plantain lengthwise and grill each piece cut side down. Feel free to butter them or sprinkle them with brown sugar after flipping.
Recipes with Plantains
Now that you know which fruit is which, you’re ready to start a long, beautiful relationship with plantains. Here are a few of our favorite recipes to get you started:
- Cauliflower and Plantain Tacos with Lemony Pesto Dressing
- Sweet and Spicy Plantain Salad
- Tropical Rice Bowls
- Tostones with Chunky Avocado
- Roasted Plantain and Black Bean Vegan Bowl
- Fried Sweet Plantains