Plantains: A Latin American Dietary Staple

Explains why plantains are popular in Latin American and throughout the world. Also details uses for plantains in cooking and as a medicinal product.

Plantains, also known as platanos, are a fruit that resembles bananas except that they are typically not eaten raw but are used, cooked, as a side dish or dessert. Because of this, another name for the plantain is the "cooking banana". Plantains are popular as a dietary staple in many Latin America countries where they are grown in abundance, because they can be used in a variety of ways. Additionally, they provide a nutritious, filling, and relatively inexpensive food source to the many peoples who reside in these regions.

You can distinguish a plantain from a banana by its somewhat larger size. Plantains are also sold in their green stage, which is the stage required when using the plantains in traditional recipes. Although plantains are totally ripe when their outer skin is colored black and can be eaten in this form, plantains are not usually eaten this way because the consistency of their inner flesh is dryer than a banana and is not as sweet and flavorful.

Plantains are popular in many countries besides those in Latin America. Because of this, you should be able to purchase plantains year round at most supermarket and grocery stores. When purchasing plantains, make sure that you select only those that are firm and that do not have any mold present on them. Once purchased, plantains can be stored in your home at room temperature for a few days. Thus, it is best to use any plantains that you have purchased within a few days after buying them.

Because plantains are typically used in recipes that require cooking them, common uses for the plantain include peeling the skin from the plantain, slicing pieces of it, then frying the pieces in hot oil to serve as a side dish to entrees, or as a snack. Additionally, more ripe plantains can be sautéed in butter with sweet spices as an exotic dessert. They can also be baked in an oven with roasts as a "sweeter" vegetable type of accompaniment. Plantains are also commonly used as an ingredient in stews and soups, especially those that include other tropical vegetables such as yuca and jicama.

Plantains are a very healthy fruit to eat. This is because they do not contain any cholesterol or sodium and are low in fat. They also contain traces of calcium, iron, and potassium, and are high in vitamin A. For those counting calories, 150 grams of plantains, which is approximately equal to one cup, contains 180 calories. Plantains also provide an excellent source of dietary fiber.

Besides being sold in their natural, raw form, plantains are also used by commercial manufacturers to produce snack foods and medicinal products. For example, plantain chips, which are similar to potato chips but sweeter in flavor, are now sold in many larger supermarkets and specialty food stores. Additionally, plantains are combined with other natural ingredients to produce ointments that claim to alleviate the pain caused by insect bites and to help reduce the swelling of boils and other skin problems.

Plantains are a versatile fruit that can be used in many ways. Because of this, they are established in Latin American as an important crop -- one that will continue to be used throughout the world for both cooking and medicinal purposes.

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