Friday, March 15, 2013

All About Plantain in India

Plantains have no biological distinction from bananas, though their taxonomy differs. The generally accepted differences between the two are their sweetness and preparation method. Dessert bananas are sweet and consumed as-is with no preparation required. Plantains, also known as culinary bananas, are starchy and unsweet, and they generally require cooking for consumption. 

Origin of Plantain
Plantains are native to Southeast Asia, specifically the Indian subcontinent, and New Guinea. Plantains and bananas are an ancient fruit, dating as far back as the earliest records of human civilization.

According to the book, “The Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India,” plantains hold great cultural significance in India, and are considered sacred. In marriage ceremonies, tradition holds that a plantain branch sits near the sacred fire around which the bride and groom walk. In some parts of the country, new parents lay premature babies on plantain leaves until the original, expected delivery date arrives. Bengalis consecrate goddess Durga’s image with a plantain tree.

Another Gabada story explains why plantain requires no pollination. According to the tale, five sisters lived in a house: Mango, Tamarind, Fig, Jamun, and Plantain. When the time came to marry, all of the sisters wished for children and a husband. Except for Plantain. She wanted many children, but no husband. As the story goes, the four other sisters had so many children that the husbands fled, whereas Plantain simply grew old after bearing many children. While the four were reincarnated as trees requiring pollination in their next life, plantain did not.

Availability of Plantain in India
It’s difficult to parse plantain production from dessert bananas, but according to figures published by the IKP Centre for Advancement in Agricultural Practice, the nation grows a staggering supply of both: As of 2010, India is the world’s largest producers of bananas and accounts for approximately 20 percent of the world’s supply. 

Tamil Nadu is the largest banana growing state, contributing approximately 6.4 million tons to the country’s supply. Maharashtra is second at 5.2 million, followed by Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh, respectively. Total production in 2009-2010 was estimated at nearly 27 tons.

Where to find Plantain in India
Plantains are ubiquitous in India, and available year-round. While it’s the dessert bananas that get sold by street hawkers and in small stalls, large plantains are just as easily found in any shop selling an assortment of fruits and vegetables.

Though the south has better growing conditions for bananas and plantains, the north still receives steady shipments of the fruits, and many non-temperate states in the north grow both.

Checking for Ripeness in Plantain
The ripeness desired depends on the plantain’s end-use: some prefer unripe plantains, and therefore select green, hard fruits. Others prefer ripe plantains, which are marked by a brown and black peel.

The ripening stage for a plantain is a hard, greenish yellow when underripe to a dull yellow, finally evolving to brown with black spots at peak ripeness. Some even wait until the plantain is fully black before cooking, as this will be when the fruit is at its peak sugar levels. 

Plantains are not the prettiest fruits: some of the tastiest may look wholly unappetizing, appear dull with an uneven skin tone, and have black marks or streaks. The only grounds for rejection are mold spots and a black, withered and wrinkly exterior.

Taste of Plantain
Plantains possess a wide variety of flavors, depending on their ripeness and preparation methods. Unripe, uncooked plantains are similar to unripe bananas: starchy, bitter, and coats the tongue with an unpleasant chalky-like taste similar to unripe hachiya persimmons.

Only rare breeds of fruit lovers eat raw plantains (“wait until they’re really, really, super-ripe,” they’ll advise). But for most of us, cooking plantains is the only way to enjoy the taste—once heated, plantain loses its bitter starchiness.

--Green plantains taste like potatoes when cooked: bland and starchy, but easily enhanced with the simplest of spices.
--Yellow plantains are mildly sweet and, when cooked, possess a softer texture than green fruits.

--Black plantains are the softest and sweetest when cooked, and are thus best suited for dessert recipes.

Nutritional Value of Plantain
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of raw* plantain contains the following values:

31.2g Carbohydrate
2.3g Fiber (9% RDI)
.2g Fat (neg)
.8g Protein (2% RDI)
909 IU Vitamin A (18% RDI)
10.9mg Vitamin C (18% RDI)
Thiamin (3% RDI)
.1mg Riboflavin (3% RDI)
.8mg Niacin (4% RDI)
.2mg Vitamin B6 (12% RDI)
26mcg Folate (6% RDI)
.2mg Pantothenic Acid (2% RDI)
.6mg Iron (3% RDI)
37mg Magnesium (9% RDI)
34mg Phosphoous (3% RDI)
499mg Potassium (14% RDI)
.1mg Copper (4% RDI)

1.5mcg Selenium (2% RDI)

*Cooked plantain has an almost identical nutrient profile to raw plantain, with the exception of slightly lower vitamin A and half of the vitamin C. Other nutrients are lowered by a percent or so per serving, such as iron, magnesium and phosphorous. 

Health Benefits of Plantain
Plantains have a number of commonly accepted health benefits:
--Its high potassium regulates the body’s electrolyte balance and controls blood pressure
--Bananas help the gut absorb calcium, thereby staving off osteoporosis
--Plantain’s high fiber helps the body achieve optimal digestion, keeping away bowel-related illnesses
--Amino acids in bananas, particularly tryptophan, help the brain emit the right levels of serotonin necessary for mood regulation.
--Bananas help prevent heartburn and acidosis

*Note: Using unhealthy cooking techniques such as battering, deep-frying and sautéing in copious amounts of oil quickly mitigate any health benefits of the plantain.

How to Open/Cut:
Plantains can be much fussier fruits than dessert bananas when it comes to peeling. Unripe plantains have a fortress-like skin that seems impenetrable: the trick is to lop off the top and bottom first, and then use a knife to make a slit down the fruit. The peel exudes a sticky, sap-like substance—to protect the fingers from the mess, place the plantain under water when peeling back the slit and exposing the fruit. Plantains have a habit of discoloration when exposed to oxygen: To avoid its browning, keep the fruit in salt water until ready for use.

*Warm plantains are easier to peel than cold ones. 

The average ripening time from green to yellowish-black is approximately 10 days when sitting at room temperature. If further ripening is required, place in newspaper or a brown bag to hasten the process. Plantains manage humidity and warm storage areas beautifully and do not require refrigeration. However, place fully ripe, black plantains in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life for an additional week or so.

Plantains may be frozen: peel the fruits and place in the freezer, where they’ll keep for up to one year.
Vegan plantain fry from

Plantain Recipe Ideas and Uses:
These fruits play an integral role in the cuisine of several Indian states, especially Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Plantain recipes follow a simple rule of thumb: if desiring a savory dish, cook underripe plantains. If desiring a semi-sweet addition to a meal or a sweet dessert, cook ripe plantains. As a reminder, unripe plantains are greenish yellow. Ripe plantains appear fully yellow to black.

Unripe plantain recipe ideas:
--Make plantain chips. Traditionally, this is done by slicing the plantain into rounds and then deep-frying them. After they’ve had time to cool, smash into larger, flat circles. Place them in a fryer a second time.
*Kerala has its own way of making plantain chips, achieved by frying in coconut oil.
*Another Indian method is coating the chips in jaggery and cumin.
*Tamilians often make thin chips seasoned with salt, chili, and asafetida.
--Sautee plantain cubes for five minutes in light oil. Add these chunks to sautéed vegetables, rice and black beans. Ideally, season the dish with Cuban combinations, such as cumin, cilantro, onion, tomatoes and scallions.
--Add plantain chunks to stews, such as chilies and pot roasts. Let plantains cook for at least two hours beforehand.

--Add plantains as a potato substitute in any casserole dish. Give plantains approximately 40 minutes or longer to cook.
--Venezuelans use large, fried banana chips as a bread substitute of sorts. Locals make a variation of the classic grilled cheese sandwich by melting cheese between two hot plantain chips.

Ripe plantain recipe ideas:
--Bake black, fully ripe plantains in a shallow baking dish with a marinade of apple or orange juice, cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, mace, and honey or agave. Bake for 40 minutes, and check on the plantain periodically to ensure it has enough liquids—plantains have a tendency to dry out, which then creates a mushy unpalatable texture.
--Add marinated plantains to vegan whipped cream sauces, atop baked goods, ice creams, and puddings.
--Sautee and caramelize plantains in brown sugar.
--Grill yellow plantains and pair with glazed tofu and baked potatoes.
--Blend very ripe plantains with a bit of water and fold into batters for cookies, cakes, cupcakes and muffins. The plantain will impart a fluffy, light taste to baked goods.
--Like dessert bananas, ripe, frozen plantains may be blended with dates into ice cream

It’s not just the fruit that may be used in recipes: in the south of India, plantain leaves are often used as plates. The leaves are also used to wrap and steam idlis.

Random Facts:
The peel of the banana, when topically applied, allegedly helps with the swelling and irritation caused by mosquito bites.

Technically, plantains do not grow on trees, but stalks

Flavor Complements:
Breadfruit, jackfruit, dessert banana, potato

Herbs, spices, and oil: Coconut oil, olive oil, safflower oil, salt, pepper, chili, cumin, turmeric, mustard seed, coriander, asafetida, lemon juice, tamarind paste, barbeque sauce, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, sugar, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, jaggery, vanilla, coconut flakes, rum, port, raisin

Scientific Name:
Musa paradisiaca

Other Names:
Kacha kela (Hindi)
Laphoo tharo (Manipuri)

Vaazha (Tamil and Malayalam)

Related Fruits:
Musa balbisiana (leaf banana: too full of seeds to eat, but underdeveloped fruits are picked and consumed as a vegetable… similar to plantains)

Musa velutina (velvet pink banana: a delicious variety by also full of seeds)


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