Something Different
Week of March 20, 2006

Discover Plantains

By Dana Jacobi for the
American Institute for Cancer Research

Mark Twain called cauliflower “cabbage with a college education.” How, I wonder, would he compare a plantain to a banana? For me, there is no contest between these botanical cousins. Most bananas sold in the U.S. taste as exciting as industrially grown tomatoes, while the plantain has many personalities and uses.

Although clearly a fruit, this staple of the southern hemisphere is called banane-légume in the French Caribbean. Mostly eaten as either a vegetable or starch, it is always cooked. Unlike regular bananas, plantains are always cooked before eaten. But plantains are good to eat at every stage, starting when they are green and their hard, white flesh is bland and starchy, like a potato. As they ripen, turning yellow, so that some people call them amarillos or “yellow ones,” their flesh turns a lovely peachy color and their flavor gains some sweetness. Finally, at their ripest, when their skin is black and their flesh deep orange-yellow, plantains taste mainly sweet, but still with a pleasant tartness. At every stage, their flesh is firm, and it is nearly impossible to overcook a plantain.

Plantains are higher in calories than bananas, but plantains are far richer in potassium, containing 716 mg per cup of sliced plantain versus 134 mg for bananas, according to the USDA. And they contain a whopping 1400 IU vitamin A per cup vs. 122 IU for bananas.

Around the world, plantains are eaten in many ways. Tostones, fried sliced plantains, are a Hispanic favorite. Elsewhere, and depending on the country, plantains are also boiled, baked, simmered in a spicy sauce, or added to stews, including this tropical one made with pork, curry powder and coconut milk.

Peeling plantains is the only challenge when using them. Tough and thick, their skin does not zip off like a banana’s. To remove it, cut off both ends, then slit the plantain’s skin lengthwise in several places and pull it off with your fingers. Halving the fruit crosswise makes prying it off easier, even for ripe ones, when the skin is thinner and less fibrous.

Pork and Plantain Stew 2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. mild or hot curry powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 lb. boneless pork loin, cut in 3/4 inch cubes
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, diced small (or minced)
1 large garlic clove, chopped, minced
1 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained, or 1 fresh, seeded and chopped
1 very ripe plantain or 2 large unripe bananas, chopped
1/2 cup reduced-fat coconut milk
2 cups cooked brown rice
Place the flour, curry powder and salt in a paper bag, and mix to combine. Add the pork, close the bag and shake to coat the meat. Remove and set coated meat aside.

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, bell and jalapeño peppers, and garlic until the onion is translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the floured meat, pushing aside the vegetables to sear the cubes until they are white on all sides, using tongs to turn them, for about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes. Pour in 1 cup water. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Add the plantains and cook, covered, until meat is tender, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Stir in the coconut milk. Serve over the rice, accompanied by steamed collard greens.

Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 374 calories, 11 g. total fat (3 g. saturated fat), 50 g. carbohydrate, 21 g. protein, 6 g. dietary fiber, 428 mg. sodium.

"Something Different" is written for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) by Dana Jacobi, author of The Joy of Soy and recipe creator for AICR's Stopping Cancer Before It Starts.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) offers a Nutrition Hotline online at or via phone 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, MondayFriday, at 1-800-843-8114. This free service allows you to ask questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. A registered dietitian will respond to your email or call, usually within 3 business days. AICR is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on how the risk of cancer is reduced by healthy food and nutrition, physical activity and weight management. The Institute’s education programs help millions of Americans lower their cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. Over $75 million in funding has been provided. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International. All active news articles