Plantain a member of the genus Musa scientifically called as Musa paradisiacal is an herbaceous plant. The fruit that this plant produces is generally used for cooking when raw and when ripen is the soft sweet banana (sometimes referred as dessert banana). There is no formal botanical distinction between the banana and plantain but is based purely on how the fruit is consumed.
When the fruit is removed in the raw stage it is cooked as a vegetable and when removed after it ripens than eaten as a fruit. In United States, the word “banana” is sometimes used to describe other plantain varieties, and names may reflect local uses or characteristics of varieties: cooking plantain, banana plantain, beer banana, bocadillo plantain, etc.
Plantains are classified formally as Musa balbisiana. All members of the genus Musa are indigenous to the tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Oceania, including the Malay Archipelago (modern Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines) and Northern Australia. Musa species are both native to South and Southeast Asia, and Oceania. It is assumed Portuguese Franciscan friars were responsible for the introduction of plantains from Africa to the Caribbean islands and other parts of the Americas.
Plantains are firmer and low in sugar content than dessert bananas. Bananas are most often eaten raw, while plantains tend to be cooked or otherwise processed, and are used either when green or unripe (and therefore starchy) or overripe (and therefore sweet). Plantains are a staple food in the tropical regions of the world and are treated in much same way as potatoes which have a similar neutral flavor and texture when the unripe fruit is cooked by steaming, boiling or frying.
Plantains can be cooked at any stage of ripeness and very ripe ones can be eaten raw. As the plantain ripens they become sweet and change its color from green to yellow to black. Green plantains are firm and starchy just like the potatoes where as yellow plantains are softer and sweet. Steam-cooked plantains are considered a nutritious food for infants and the elderly. A ripe plantain is used as food for infants at weaning; it is mashed with a pinch of salt and is believed to be more easily digestible than ripe banana.
In the South Indian state of Kerala, the ripe yellow fruits of a local variety called Nendran are deep fried after dipping in a thin batter of gram flour. This is a staple breakfast in this region of India. The juice from peeling the plantain can stain clothing and hands, and it can be very difficult to remove.
Chips or Fritters is one of the most popular snacks made out of the plantains (raw or ripe). In the southwestern Indian state of Kerala, plantains are grown in abundance and banana chips fried in coconut oil and sprinkled with salt is called the upperi or kaya varuthathu which is a popular snack. They are the important items in their famous vegetarian feast prepared during festive occasions called the Sadya. They are commonly called as the plantain chips which are made of green plantains.
Apart from India the plantain chips are also a popular treat in Jamaica, Ghana, Nigeria (where it is called ipekere by the Yorubas), and other countries such as Guatemala, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Belize, Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, Ecuador, Guyana, the United States and Peru. They are also popular in other Caribbean communities.
In the southern Indian states of Kerala and Tamilnadu, where banana plants are commonly grown, plantain chips are an industry. They are different types of plantain are made into chips. They are usually cut thick, fried in coconut oil and seasoned with salt and/or spices. In Tamilnadu, the ultra thin variety made from green plantains is common but not fried in coconut oil unlike in Kerala. These chips are typically seasoned with salt, chilli powder and asafoetida.
Apart from just the green plantains other parts of the plant are also used in various other ways like the Plantain flower is used to make a type of poriyal (dry curry) in Tamil Nadu and Thoran is made in Kerala with the end of the bunch (called “koompu” in Malayalam) and is considered to be highly nutritious. After harvesting the fruit, the plantain plant is cut and layers are peeled like an onion to get a cylinder shaped soft shoot called as the plantain shoot. In the south India like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, plantain shoot is chopped into fine pieces and made as a salad or a dry curry (often seasoned with coconut and green chillies), or as a wet curry (with yogurt, red chillies and coconut).
Plantain shoot is considered rich in fibers, and a very good remedy for avoiding constipation. Regular intake of the juice squeezed from the shoot or the shoot consumed as a salad is considered by the locals as a sure cure for various ailments, such as stomach ulcers and kidney stones. 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 from the shoot. The peeled layers are used by farmers as a binding rope for packaging agricultural produce, such as flowers, betel leaves, etc. The dried stem peels are slit into fine threads and are used for weaving mats, stringing garlands and packaging wrapper.
Lastly the plantains leaves are also considered very important. Plantain leaves almost can exceed two meters in length. According to south Indian tradition it is a ritual to eat food or entire meal served on a plantain leaf with the position of the different food items on the leaf having an importance. They also have a religious significance in many Hindu rituals. They add a subtle and aroma to the dish. Plantain leaves are also used in making karimeen pollichathu (fish along with spices wrapped in plantain leaf and steam cooked) in Kerala and Kolkata.
Plantains are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. They are also good sources of vitamins, minerals and potassium and rich in vitamin C.
The nutritional value for 1 cup (148 gms) of green plantains are:
Calories: 191 kcal
Total Fat: 1 gm
Cholesterol: 0 gm
Water: 96.6 gm
Dietary Fiber: 3.4 gm
Sugars: 22.2 gm
Carbohydrates: 47.2 gm
Protein: 1.9 gm
Sodium: 6 mg
Potassium: 739 mg
Phosphorus: 50.3 mg
Zinc: 0.2 mg