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 their very different tastes.
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, yet have a few key differences in flavor and usage.
Bananas are commonly used in North American and European cuisine, although they’re originally from Southeast Asia. Bananas typically have a long, slender shape and are covered by a 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 difficult to peel when unripe.
As it ripens, the skin changes to bright yellow, followed by a dark brown color. It also becomes progressively easier to peel.
Bananas can be eaten raw or cooked, and the edible flesh of the fruit becomes sweeter, darker and softer as it ripens.
The term “plantain” refers to a type of banana with a very different flavor profile and culinary application than the sweet, yellow banana with which most people are familiar.
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 starchy, tough and not very sweet. They require cooking, as they are not enjoyable to eat raw.
Summary Bananas and plantains are both fruits that come from the same family of plants. Though they look alike, they have very different flavor profiles.
Aside from their botanical classifications, one of the most obvious similarities between plantains and bananas is their appearance.
But their commonalities don’t end there. In fact, they share some nutritional and health-promoting qualities, too.
They’re Both Very Nutritious
Below is nutrition info for 100 grams (roughly a 1/2 cup) of bananas and plantains:
|Carbs||23 grams||31 grams|
|Fiber||3 grams||2 grams|
|Potassium||358 mg||465 mg|
|Magnesium||27 mg||32 mg|
|Vitamin C||9 mg||11 mg|
They both provide a healthy source of complex carbohydrates. Plantains contain roughly 31 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 (2, 3).
The main difference is that more of the carbs in bananas come from sugars, whereas more of the carbs in plantains are from starch.
They May Have Some Health Benefits
Because bananas and plantains have a 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 (4).
Summary Bananas and plantains are very similar in their nutrition content, containing a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber. They also share potential health benefits.
The main difference between bananas and plantains is how they’re used in the kitchen, though in some cultures there is not a clear linguistic distinction between these two.
A plantain is sometimes referred to as a “cooking banana,” while the sweeter variety is classified as a “dessert banana.”
Cooking With Bananas
Because they’re very sweet, bananas are frequently used in cooked desserts and baked goods including pies, muffins and quick breads.
They’re also eaten raw by themselves, as part of a fruit salad, or as a dessert or porridge topping. They may even be dipped in chocolate or spread on toast with nut butter.
Cooking With Plantains
Plantains are more common in Latin, Caribbean and African cuisines. They are starchy and tough when raw, with a much thicker skin than bananas.
Plantains are more similar to a vegetable than a fruit in terms of culinary applications. Because they have less sugar than bananas, they are used more frequently as a savory side dish or part of an entrée.
Like bananas, they start green and progress to a dark brown-black color as they ripen. The darker they are, the sweeter they’ll be. Plantains can be eaten at any stage of the ripening process, but you’ll need a knife to peel them.
Green and yellow plantains are often sliced, fried and eaten as a fritter called tostones, a popular dish in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine. If sliced very thinly before frying, they can be eaten more like chips.
Another common dish from these regions is known as maduros. Maduros are a sweeter take on plantains in which very ripe, dark plantains are fried or baked in oil until the outside caramelizes.
Summary The biggest differences between bananas and plantains are their flavor profile and method of preparation. Bananas are popular in North American cuisine, while plantains are more common in Caribbean, Latin American and African dishes.
Neither the banana nor the plantain is superior to the other nutritionally, as they are both very healthy, nutrient-rich foods.
However, cooking methods can affect the nutrition content of these fruits, making them more or less healthy. This has less to do with the fruit itself and more to do with what you’re adding to it.
If you’re concerned about blood sugar management, you’ll still want to monitor portions of both foods because they do 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 (9).
Summary Both bananas and plantains are both very healthy fruits, but cooking preparation can play a large role in either fruit’s effect on your health.
Bananas and plantains are easily confused because of their visual similarities, but you’ll find it's easy to tell them apart after tasting them.
Their nutrition content and potential health benefits are similar, but their applications in the kitchen are not.
Plantains are starchy and contain less sugar than bananas. They’re better suited for savory dishes, whereas bananas are easily used in desserts or on their own.
Both fruits are nutritious, whole foods and can be included as part of a healthy diet.