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Plantains – the “Fast Food” of the Caribbean PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 19 January 2009 13:31
Plantains – the “Fast Food” of the CaribbeanHave you ever wondered about plantains, the banana-like food near the tropical fruits in the supermarket? While not quite as pretty and bright yellow as their first cousin the banana, plantains are high in potassium, high in fiber, low in calories and have an array of vitamins and minerals. So although plantains are nutritionally and botanically similar to bananas, their taste is very different.

Plantains, "potatoes of the air" or "cooking bananas" are the fruit of the Musa Paradisiaca, a type of banana plant. They are more starchy than sweet, and must be cooked before being eaten. They are a staple crop in much of Africa, and are served boiled, steamed, baked, or fried. Plantains grilled over a charcoal fire are popular street food in many African cities. In the Congo river region, plantain bananas—peeled, sliced, and boiled, or cut into rondelles and fried in oil—are called makemba.

Plantains tend to cost more than bananas. When buying them, remember that their color is key to determining their stage of ripeness -- if green to nearly yellow, the plantain will be solid and starchy... yellow to mottled brown, it has a slight fruitiness and is more tender, but still firm... brown to black-ripe, the golden flesh becomes creamy and sweet, but it still holds its shape when cooked, unlike the common banana. They can be stored at room temperature and allowed to ripen until they reach the stage you like best. Green plantains can be microwaved and mashed for a delicious side dish reminiscent of mashed potatoes. To do this, slice then cook two medium-sized green plantains in two tablespoons of water in a covered dish. Microwave on high for two to three minutes then add a bit of non-trans fat margarine or butter to taste. If you ever find yourself in the midst of a baking project and without eggs -- and you happen to have plantains on hand, here is a handy trick: Approximately one-quarter cup mashed ripe plantain can be substituted for an egg in baked goods including muffins, pancakes or quick bread.

Plantains are sometimes referred to as the pasta and potatoes of the Caribbean and grow best in areas with constant warm temperatures and protection from strong winds. Plantains (and many varieties of sweet bananas) are common throughout tropical Africa as well. However banana plants are not native to Africa. Bananas and plantains originated and were first cultivated in the islands of Southeast Asia (today's Malaysia and Indonesia). They arrived in Africa during the first millennium AD, brought by Malay-Polynesian peoples who settled in Madagascar, or perhaps by Arabs or Indians who traded and settled on Africa's East Coast. Banana cultivation is especially common in Africa's great lakes region, notably Uganda. From there the practice of banana cultivation was spread by Bantu people to the rest of tropical Africa. Plantains have also been grown in scattered locations throughout Florida since the 16th century. Because of the occasional freezes, Florida is considered a marginal area for plantain production, but they are available year round in the supermarkets.

As you can see, plantains are such a versatile fruit, that can be prepared in all stages of ripeness and can be served fried, baked, mashed, sautéed, or even microwaved, with nearly no waste and with excellent taste. So next time you are in the supermarket, pick up a plantain or two and give them a try. Who knows, you may find a new “fast food” that is tasty, healthy and easy to prepare.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 January 2009 23:03

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