Bananas are a staple in many household fruit baskets. Plantains, though, are not as well known.
It’s easy to confuse a plantain with a banana because they look so much alike.
However, if you were to substitute a plantain for a banana in a recipe, you may be surprised by its different taste.
This article will review the similarities and differences between bananas and plantains, including some of their most common culinary uses.
Bananas and plantains are similar but have a few critical differences in flavor and usage.
What are bananas?
“Banana” is a term used for the edible fruits produced by various large, herbaceous plants in the genus Musa. Botanically speaking, bananas are a type of berry.
Bananas are initially from the Malay Archipelago in Southeast Asia. Bananas typically have a long, slender shape and are covered by thick skin.
Many different kinds of bananas exist. However, in Western cultures, the term “banana” usually refers to the sweet, yellow variety.
The outer skin is green, tough, and challenging to peel when unripe.
The skin changes to bright yellow as the banana ripens, followed by a dark brown. It also becomes progressively easier to peel.
Bananas can be eaten raw, and their edible flesh becomes sweeter, darker, and softer as it ripens. They can also be enjoyed cooked when ripe, often in desserts. When green, they can be boiled, mashed, and eaten as you would mashed potatoes.
Plantains and bananas are genetically similar, but plantains are primarily eaten cooked.
Like bananas, plantains are originally from Southeast Asia. However, they are now grown all over the world, including in India, Egypt, Indonesia, and tropical regions of the Americas.
Plantains are usually larger and tougher than bananas, with much thicker skin. They may be green, yellow, or very dark brown.
Plantains are starchier than bananas and not very sweet when green. When ripe, they are sweeter and become more so when cooked. Plantains can be boiled, baked, or fried.
Summary: Bananas and plantains are fruits from the same family of plants. Though they look alike, they have very different flavor profiles.
Similarities of bananas and plantains
Aside from their botanical classifications, one of the most apparent similarities between plantains and bananas is their appearance.
But their commonalities don’t end there. They share some nutritional and health-promoting qualities too.
They’re both very nutritious
Both plantains and bananas are good sources of several vital nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidant compounds.
Below is the nutritional info for 100 grams (roughly 1/2 cup) of bananas and plantains:
Nutrition facts of bananas
- Calories: 89
- Carbs: 23 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Potassium: 358 mg
- Magnesium: 27 mg
- Vitamin C: 9 mg
Nutrition facts of plantains
- Calories: 122
- Carbs: 32 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Potassium: 487 mg
- Magnesium: 36 mg
- Vitamin C: 18 mg
They are both healthy sources of complex carbohydrates. Plantains contain roughly 32 grams of carbs per 100-gram serving, while bananas contain about 23 grams. However, this amount can vary depending on the ripeness of the fruit.
The main difference is that more carbs in bananas come from sugars, whereas more carbs in plantains are from starch.
They contain similar calories: 89–122 per 100-gram serving. Neither is a significant source of fat or protein.
They may have some health benefits
Because bananas and plantains have similar nutritional composition, they may provide some of the same health benefits.
Some research indicates that the bioactive compounds in plantains and bananas may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Both fruits contain high potassium levels, a mineral many people don’t get enough of. Adequate potassium intake may help lower blood pressure and reduce heart disease risk.
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Both fruits may also play a role in promoting digestive health because of their fiber content.
Additionally, both plantains and bananas contain high amounts of resistant starch, which promotes digestive health. It can also improve blood sugar management and insulin sensitivity.
Summary: Bananas and plantains are very similar in their nutritional content, containing various vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They also share potential health benefits.
Their culinary uses are similar
The main difference between bananas and plantains is how they’re used in the kitchen, though in some cultures, there is no clear linguistic distinction between them.
A plantain is sometimes called a “cooking banana,” while the sweeter variety is classified as a “dessert banana.”
Cooking with bananas
Because ripe bananas are sweet, they are often used in cooked desserts and baked goods, including pies, muffins, and quick bread.
They’re also eaten raw by themselves, as part of a fruit salad, or as a dessert or porridge topping. They may be dipped in chocolate or spread on toast with nut butter.
Green bananas can be enjoyed when boiled until soft. They are enjoyable when mashed as you would potatoes.
Cooking with plantains
Plantains are more common in Central and South America and Caribbean dishes. They can also be found in the cuisine of African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria.
Mofongo is a popular Puerto Rican dish with mashed plantains as the main ingredient. In Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, ripe plantains are fried and served along with a meal.
They are starchy and tough when green and raw but soften as they ripen. They have much thicker skin than bananas.
Plantains have less sugar than bananas and are often served as savory or main dishes.
Like bananas, they start green, progress to yellow, and then a dark brown-black as they ripen. The darker they are, the sweeter they’ll be. Plantains can be eaten at any ripening stage, but you’ll need a knife to peel them.
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Green and yellow plantains are often sliced and fried, a popular dish in Latin American and Caribbean cuisines. If sliced very thinly before frying, they can be eaten more like chips.
When green and fried in Spanish-speaking countries, they can be referred to as tostones and, when ripe, as maduros.
Summary: The most significant differences between bananas and plantains are their flavor profile, size, and skin thickness. Bananas are famous in North American cuisine, while plantains have been more common in countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa.
Which is healthier?
Neither the banana nor the plantain is superior to the other nutritionally, as they are both nutrient-rich foods.
However, cooking methods can affect the nutritional content of these fruits. This has less to do with the fruit itself and more with what you add to it.
If you’re concerned about blood sugar management, you’ll still want to monitor your portions of both foods because they contain carbohydrates that can increase blood sugar.
Keep in mind, though, that both plantains and bananas are whole foods that contain fiber. This may help reduce blood sugar increases in some people, especially compared to more refined, processed foods that don’t have fiber.
Summary: Both bananas and plantains are both very healthy fruits, but the cooking method can play a role in either fruit’s effect on your health.
While it’s possible to confuse bananas with plantains because of the two fruits’ visual similarities, you’ll find it’s easy to tell them apart after tasting them.
Their nutritional content and potential health benefits are similar to some of their applications in the kitchen.
Plantains are starchy and contain less sugar than bananas. They work well in savory dishes, while bananas are easily used in desserts or on their own.
Both fruits are nutritious, whole foods and can be included as a healthy diet.
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