Is It A Plantain Or A Banana? How Can You Tell? - eat2explore

Is It A Plantain Or A Banana? How Can You Tell?

Have you ever seen a plantain in the store? What's the difference between plantains and bananas?

Well, all plantains are bananas, but not all bananas are plantains. Confused yet?

bananas and plantains with eat2explore logo

Not to worry! Come along as we explore these delicious tropical treats.

First, Let's Talk Bananas

Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world.

banana tree

Did you know the banana is actually an elongated berry of the musa plant?

And that all bananas originated in southeast Asia?

Bananas come in different varieties, not just the familiar yellow ones.

Cavendish Bananas

a peeled banana beside a bunch of Cavendish bananas

The yellow bananas are called Cavendish bananas and are the most commercially available ones. (The ones that you see in all the grocery stores.)

Also called dessert bananas, they're sweet and soft and yummy and can be eaten raw or cooked.

banana bread, banana smoothie, banana cream pie, banana split with eat2explore Mundo the bird in the center

Ripe bananas are used in all kinds of tasty goodies like banana bread, smoothies, banana cream pies, and banana splits!

Mini Bananas


a bunch of mini bananasSometimes you can find mini bananas at the store. You might think that these are just picked when they’re really small.

They actually only grow to about 3-4 inches long. Mini bananas are grown in Hawaii and they’re super sweet when they ripen.

green bananas ready for shipping

Speaking of ripening, bananas are picked and shipped while they're still green. They're rather bitter then, but the fruits are much sturdier, holding up well to stacking and shipping.

Can you imagine a stack of soft, ripe bananas? Squish!

Fortunately, we don't have to eat bitter bananas. Like avocados, they ripen even after they're picked, and as they turn golden, they get sweeter.

And if you're in a hurry for a ripe banana, put it in a paper bag with an apple. The apple gives off a gas that speeds up the ripening process!

Red Bananas

red bananas in a bunch and on a tree

Another kind of sweet banana you might have seen is the red banana. They can be used just like a yellow banana.

The skin is a purplish-red color and their insides are sometimes pink like Peruvian potatoes!

And like yellow bananas, they can be eaten raw and used in desserts, too. You could make a pink banana split!

Okay, Then What Are Plantains?

stacks of plantains from green to ripe

Plantains are a kind of banana which has to be cooked to be eaten. The “flesh” of this kind of musa fruit is really starchy, like a potato. It’s hard and white when peeled.

Like an unripe banana, plantains are hard. Also like bananas, they get softer as they ripen, but not nearly as sweet. They aren’t very pleasant raw and must be cooked.

Plantains look like bananas, only larger. When you see them in the store, they’re the really big, green bananas. Plantains might have brown, or black, spots on their skin.

The plantain originated in Southeast Asia, just like the rest of the banana family, but they can grow in tropical climates around the world.

How Do People Eat Plantains?

In cooking, they’re treated like a vegetable.

They can be used as a side dish or in stews, but won't work well in a plantain split.

In Kenya, people enjoy a tasty dish called matoke, which is a savory dish made from plantains. Give a try and see what you think about these “green bananas!”

Bonus Recipes!

Kenyan matoke plantain stew

Kenyan Matoke (Plantain Stew) 2 servings

  • 5 Plantains — peeled and sliced into about ¼ to ½ inch rounds. Toss them in a bowl of water as you’re slicing them.
  • 2 medium Tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 Green Chilies, membrane and seeds removed (use gloves!) and chopped up
  • 2 Tablespoons Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • ½ Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice

To prepare:

While the plantains are soaking, heat the oil over a low heat in a large, heavy pan that’s big enough to hold everything.

Add the chilies and let them sauté for a couple of minutes.

Drain the plantains and pat them dry. (This is so the oil won’t splatter!)

Add the plantains to the pan. Then season with the salt, pepper, and cumin. Add the tomatoes.

Stir to get the spices integrated with everything else. Let this cook for a few minutes. Then add the water carefully.

Mix it up again and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the mixture is at a simmer. Stir occasionally for 10-15 more minutes. Once the plantains start to get tender, and the sauce thickens, add the lemon juice and stir it in.

Pull it off the heat. Give it a minute to cool off, and then try out your yummy stew!

a pan of baked plantains

Simple Baked Plantains

For a simpler way to try out plantains, here’s a baked version:

Heat up the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, aluminum foil,  or coat it lightly with oil.

Peel and slice into ¼ inch thick rounds 2 very ripe plantains. The skin should be really dark.

Cover the plantains with water and add 1 tablespoon of Kosher Salt.

Swish them around to help the salt dissolve. Then let them soak for about 5 minutes.

Drain them and pat them dry.

In another bowl, mix:

  • 1-2 tablespoons of oil,
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt,
  • and a sprinkling of black pepper or chili powder.

Add the plantains and toss them to get them coated with the oil and seasonings.

Lay the plantains out on the baking sheet in a single layer. Don’t crowd the pan.

Bake them for 10 minutes and then turn them over.

Put them back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Maybe longer.

You want a nice golden color. And they should start to soften a bit, just like making home-made french fries.

Once they’re the color you want, pull them out and let them cool a bit on a wire rack. This will help the outsides stay a little crispy.

Serve these tasty plantains with ketchup or a chili sauce for dipping.

There are a bunch of different ways that plantains (and bananas!) can be used in cooking. Now that you know a little bit about plantains, you could use them in place of potatoes and see what you can come up with!

You can even serve the baked plantains as a side dish with one of your creations from our Kenya box as you eat2explore!

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