|Left to right: Plantains, red bananas, bananitos, Cavendish bananas.|
The plantain is a crop from the genus Musa. Its fruits are edible, and are generally used for cooking. This is different from the soft and sweet banana (which is often called dessert banana). What is exported to countries like the European Union or the United States is the dessert banana, and not the plantain.
The way certain species are called often show how they are used: cooking plantain, banana plantain, beer banana, bocadillo plantain (the little one), etc. All members of the genus Musa are indigenous to the tropical region of Southeast Asia, including the Malay Archipelago and northern Australia.
Plantains are often firmer than dessert bananas; they also have less sugar. Dessert bananas are often eaten raw; plantains are usually cooked or otherwise processed before they are eaten. Plantains are a staple food in tropical regions, treated similarly to potatoes. They also have a similar taste.
Regions with Plantain crops include the Southern United States, the Caribbean, Central America, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Southern Brazil, the Canary Islands, Madeira, Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, Okinawa, and Taiwan. Farmers grow plantains as far north as Northern California and as far south as KwaZulu-Natal.
Use of parts other than the fruit[change | edit source]
Plantain flowers[change | edit source]
Each pseudostem of a plantain plant will flower only once. All the flowers grow at the end of its shoot in a large bunch made of multiple hands with individual fingers (the fruits). Only the first few hands will become fruits. In Vietnam the young male flower, at the end of the bunch, is used to make salad. In Laos, the plantain flower is often eaten raw; it is added to a special kind of soup. Thoran is made in Kerala with the end of the bunch (called "Koompu" in Malayalam). It is said to be very healthy.
Plantain leaves[change | edit source]
Plantain leaves are used like plates in several dishes, including Hallaca from Venezuela, or south Indian Thali. In southern India, meals are traditionally served on a plantain leaf. The position of the different food items on the leaf is important, also for Hindu rituals.
The plantain leaves often add an aroma to the dish. In the Indian state of Kerala, a food preparation called "Ada" is made in plantain leaves. Plantain leaves are also used in making "Karimeen Pollichathu" in Kerala.
The leaves are usually easy to find in Venezuela. They are sold at grocery stores, and they can be bought on the open-air markets there . Leaves can be very big, over 2 m (7 ft) in length. They are also used to simulate appetite, as they have a distinctive smell when hot food is placed on them.
In Nicaragua, leaves are used to wrap different kinds of food, such as Nacatamales,Vigoron and Vaho. In Peru they are often used to wrap the famous Tamale (Tamales). In Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, these are usually used to wrap tamales before and while cooking, and they can be used to wrap any kind of seasoned meat while cooking to keep the flavor in. The plantain is the main food source of the Dominican Republic, and is used just as much as, if not more than, rice. Mangu and Sancocho are two dishes for which the plantain is very important.
Plantain shoot[change | edit source]
The plantain will only fruit once. After harvesting the fruit, the plantain plant can be cut and the layers peeled (like an onion) to get a cylinder shaped soft shoot. This can be chopped and first steamed, then fried with masala powder, to make an excellent dish. This dish is called Posola in Assamese and a distinct part of Assamese cuisine. In Kerala a thoran is made out of the shoot.