As a part of "What is the Difference" week here at Eat Like No One Else, I reached out to my email subscribers to see what topics they would like to see covered. One of the ideas offered was on the difference between bananas and Plantains. She herself knows the difference but has been having experiences were plantains were incorrectly put in packages that were supposed to be bananas. I thought that was as good a reason as any to look at these two fruits and explain to you how they are different from one another.
What is a Banana?
Ok, I am sure we all know what a banana is. I hear the average American consumes 25 pounds of bananas a year (http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/fresh-fruit-americans-eat-most-9593.html) making them the most consumed fruit in America, despite the fact that bananas are not grown here. Something most people miss out on is that there are varieties of bananas. Many varieties exist. But only one is really found on all the grocery store displays and that is the Cavendish banana. It has been chosen as the best banana for it's marketability and shipping. I am sure there are better tasting bananas out there, but most of us will never experience them. If you have the chance try a red banana (a lot stores carry them) take the opportunity to try something different.
Cavendish in Trouble
In recent years, I have read several stories about the fragile state of the Cavendish banana. Disease has been affecting some of the plants. This is going on more in Asia. If it spreads through South America where our bananas are shipped in from, then we might be affected. The downside of growing one particular variety so much is that if a disease affects it you have a massive loss. Different varieties are affected by plant diseases in different ways. The reason we have the Cavendish is it's predecessor the Gros Michel was ravaged by Panama disease.
For more on this topic check out this story from NPR's the Salt - Our Favorite Banana May Be Doomed; Can New Varieties Replace It?
What is a Plantain?
Plantains are a part of the banana family. In fact they are no different, botanically speaking. It all comes down to how you use them, which leads us to...
What is the Difference Between Bananas and Plantains?
At first glance they do look like. If you are in a rush you could accidentally grab them instead. You need to examine them closer and it will be clear they are really quite different in appearance. Plantains are larger and longer than bananas. Their shape is different too. Plantains have more pronounced angles in their shape. Plantains are sold as individual fruit, not in bunches. The skin itself is thicker on a Plantain.
The important difference all comes down to sugar and starch. Bananas have more sugar than plantains. Plantains have more starch than bananas. That affects the way they are used. Most of us would not dare peel and eat a plantain. It would be like eating a raw potato. Yuck. That doesn't mean plantains don't get sweet at all. Just like bananas their starch converts to sugar as they ripen. Even a yellow plantain is still pretty starchy. They have to turn completely black in order to be sweet enough to eat out of hand. That is off putting to most people.
Plantains are Meant for Cooking
Plantains may be a fruit but they are often used as a vegetable. Their starchiness lends itself well to a variety of dishes. You use them in a similar ways to a potato, sweet potato, or any starchy type vegetable. The first time I had them was at a Central American restaurant disguised as a coney island (Michigan name for a diner). The Plantain was fried. Then split open and served with beans, a fresh cheese, and crema on top. It was very tasty. I felt like I was eating a sweet potato yet it subtle hints of banana.
Can I Use Green Bananas Instead of Plantains in Recipes
Yes you could technically do that. However the texture of your final dish will be different. Bananas possess more water than Plantains. Even when green they are going to be still more sweet and less starchy. But in a pinch when you can't find Plantains and really want to make a cooked bananas dish, you can try a really green bananas.