Plantains and Your Favorite Ways to Use Them

February 14, 2015

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: This fruit -- technically a berry -- is so versatile, you can treat it like a fruit or a vegetable and use it at every stage of ripeness.


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Plantains look like oversized bananas, so it’s no surprise that the two fruits are closely related -- so closely, in fact, that although the U.S. makes a distinction between bananas and plantains, that isn’t the case in other countries. That’s because, as we talked about last week, we only see Cavendish bananas in our grocery stores (for the most part), which leaves us with a straightforward choice between bananas (also referred to as "dessert bananas" because we can eat them raw) and plantains (sometimes called "cooking plantains" because they're cooked before eating). But in other countries -- the ones that see more of the 1000 different banana varieties -- this clear-cut distinction between the two is less applicable.

Like bananas, plantains grow on a giant herb, and their peel color changes from green (1, below) to yellow (3, below) to completely black as they ripen -- and they can be eaten at every stage. Elizabeth Schneider breaks down the fruit’s characteristics: “When the skin is green to nearly yellow, [the] plantain is solid and starchy, like yuca or a dense waxy potato; when the skin is yellow to mottled brown, [the] plantain has a slight fruitiness and a more tender but still firm texture; when brown to black-ripe, the golden flesh is creamy and sweet but holds its shape when cooked, unlike [a] banana.” 


Plantains can be stored at room temperature, but they can take a long time to ripen -- which could be good or bad depending on what stage you’re looking for. Thus, you'll generally want to buy plantains at the ripeness stage you want to be cooking with. If you buy them green and intend to use them that way but don't plan to use them in the near future, store them in the refrigerator.

Plantains are harder to peel than bananas, and if this news makes you wish plantains had a specialized peeler like other fruits do, you're sadly out of luck. There once was a plantain peeler that Amanda said “worked ingeniously,” but unfortunately it's no longer available. You'll need a good paring knife to prep them instead: Slice off the top and bottom (2, above) of each plantain, cut it into a few smaller chunks, make shallow slits through the peel down the length of each ridge, and then remove the pieces of peel.

Steven Raichlen adds: “Some chefs soak the plantain sections in a bowl of ice water before skinning. Others skin the plantains under running water to wash away the milky liquid that sometimes seeps from the skin. If you do, pat the plantain sections dry with paper towels." If you're still having trouble, it’s also possible to peel sections after cooking depending on the preparation (you'll have the best luck when boiling, steaming, or grilling). 

Sliced Plantains

When you're ready to eat your plantains, here are 10 ideas for cooking them at every level of ripeness:

Less Ripe (plantains that range from green to just barely yellow, like 1, above)

More Ripe (plantains that are yellow with lots of spots, brownish, or black, like 3, above)

  • Ripe plantains can be mashed or baked like potatoes.
  • Dice yellow plantains and whip up a breakfast hash.
  • Try grilling them.
  • Kitchen Butterfly fries ripe plantains and puts them in a tortilla roll-up with flaky white fish, crisp lettuce, and salsa.
  • Fiveandspice makes fried plantains for breakfast and likes to serve them with maple syrup and a side of bacon.
  • Black plantains are the sweetest and creamiest, but they can still be used for savory preparations. Elizabeth Schneider suggests making a savory pie: “Slice peeled ripe plantain lengthwise and sauté in butter or oil; line a pie plate with the slices, fill with ground meat or vegetable stuffing, cover with more sautéed slices, and bake until browned for a luscious ‘crust.’” 

Tell us: How do you like to eat plantains?

Photos by Bobbi Lin

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • ojoynk
  • Virginie Toussaint
    Virginie Toussaint
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    Jo Reyes-Boitel
  • witloof
  • ZonianJane
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


ojoynk April 4, 2017
please, tell me how to preserve plantain and other food for more than 6 months.
Virginie T. May 27, 2015

Plantains are great to be eaten like you would potatoes but better, in Haiti we make a porridge by grating it in. Food processor then cooking it and adding milk and sugar. Of course you need to use the very green ones because it has lots of iron . You need to grate it with the skin on wash it well!
marmar November 17, 2016
This sounds so cool! You grate it with the skin ON??
Jo R. March 5, 2015
I fry the ripe ones and eat with sunny side up eggs and pureed red kidney beans. I've been wanting to make the plantains into a dough for empanadas.
witloof March 1, 2015
I almost always have a couple of yellow plantains ripening in the fruit basket. I like to fry them slowly until they're caramelized, then squirt some lime juice on them and top with a fried egg.
ZonianJane February 18, 2015
Growing up in Panama in the former Canal Zone, we had plantains all the time. Green, double fried, salted as Patacones. But my favorite, ripe till skin was totally black. Peel, slice and fry so the edges caramelize to a crunchy crust. Yum. I find them in my local grocery store and enjoy as a side for pork chops, black beans and rice, arroz con pollo...anything for that matter. Jane Holgerson Thompson BHS64
curlsnchard February 17, 2015
I love plantains! I've been introduced to them by my Salvadorian boyfriend, when he fried some very ripe (as in black) plantains up for breakfast. I was hooked! I often put ripe, panfried plantains on my oatmeal (use coconut oil, it's delicious!) or eat them with rice and beans. A wonderful simple and delicious dish!
Panfusine February 16, 2015
Another traditional South Indian dish from Kerala is to steam the plantains, peel and shred it. Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil (for some reason plantains & coconuts are a natural pairing), add mustard seeds and a broken arbol chili, along with a sprig's worth of torn curry leaves. Once the mustard pops & the chili turns brown add the shredded plantain, along with salt, a pinch of cayenne & turmeric. Stir fry and finish with a handful of fresh shredded coconut.
Panfusine February 16, 2015
This recipe calls for absolutely green plantains w/o a hint of sweetness.
brenda_hernandez February 16, 2015
In Puerto Rico we let them get so ripe they turn completely black, this is when they are the sweetest. You want the flesh to be soft and almost mushy, they nearly taste like candy when fried. They can be baked, fried or made into a sort of shepherd's pie but instead of potatoes, replace with layers of fried plantains. We also like to serve the fried ones on the side of rice and beans, a little sweetness for the savory tone of the beans. This is a staple for Caribbean food.
Holly February 17, 2015
Brenda, I wish you had mentioned PuertoRican MOFUNGO, which I tasted for the first time last year and reordered at every opportunity! A cooked plaintain made into a bowl-like shape and then a savory filling ladled in (think creamy chicken curry etc). Utterly delicious.
brenda_hernandez February 17, 2015
Yes, with Mofongo you have to use the very green plantains. You need to cut them in rounds, deep fry them. Once deep fried you place them in a large mortar and pestle. Adding garlic, olive oil, salt + pepper, and fried pork (can be substituted for fried bacon). You mash them until you get a ball of savory goodness. That is your base, then you can add things on top like stewed shrimp or chicken stock.
Holly February 17, 2015
THANK you for your recipe advice! I can't wait to try this.
Meechee February 16, 2015
Peel them and sprinkle with cinnamon, sugar and a few pats of butter. Cover with foil and bake until the plantains are soft and custard like. Great side to savory dishes like pork chops.
tr2120 February 15, 2015
In the Philippines, we peel and slice the ripe plantains and wrap them in spring roll wrapper and deep fry them and its amazing. It's called túron. Or if you are feeling lazy, just peel and slice the ripe plantains and fry till golden. Then add a little sugar to caramelize and eat.
Panfusine February 15, 2015
Cut the ripe plantains into 2 inch long pieces, boil them till the peel literally slides off, heat butter and press these cooked pieces down into a patty and pan fry till golden, serve up with a handful of tangy feta and a crack of fresh pepper.
Lindsay-Jean H. February 16, 2015
Feta! Love that idea.
Greg M. February 15, 2015
I had forgotten the name for this method until I saw @amysarah's comment. Tostones! basically double fry them. I take 1 inch slices of ripe plantain and fry them to golden, take them out and then using a shot glass smash them into little cups and re-fry them to golden. Lightly salt then fill them with guacamole or pico de gallo or anything else you feel is appropriate. These are always a hit!
Kateq February 14, 2015
When I was in Ecuador, I watched my friend's sister boil plantains in their skins, and then, while still hot, peel and mash them and use them as the 'dough' for empanadas. Delicioso!
amysarah February 14, 2015
Dating myself, but at the old Mesa Grill (before Bobby Flay was a TV character) there was a delicious spicy salmon tartare served on tostones. I still make it, though it's been a while since I did the tostones part (lazy) - but it really is a great pairing. Small world: I just searched for the recipe online, and where should it appear but in a an old NYT piece by Amanda: Also an accompanying interesting article on plantains - wonder if she recalls...
Millie |. February 14, 2015
I've always seen them fried but super intrigued to try baking!