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Plantain, the “macho banana”

Plantain, the “macho banana”

Is it a fruit? Is it a vegetable? It's definitely more than just a big banana

Is it a fruit? Is it a vegetable? It's definitely more than just a big banana

Niki Segnit | April/May 2020

What do you get if you cross a banana with a potato? A Nobel prize? Plantain has a starchiness that puts it at the vegetable end of the fruit spectrum. (It’s not an actual cross, of course – it just tastes like one.) The plantain is a good deal bigger than most bananas – in some languages it’s called the “macho banana” – but as with its sweeter cousin, a lot can be read from the colour of its skin.

A green plantain will be bland and a devil to peel. A bright-yellow skin is a sure sign of sweeter, softer flesh. As the skin becomes mottled, tending to black, the inside develops a deep sweet-and-sour taste, and a fruitiness that’s reminiscent of tamarind. It’s like an edgy sweet potato.

Many recipe books insist the starchy fruit should always be cooked, but once they’ve reached the mottled stage I find them delicious raw. For a simple way to cook it, top and tail a blackening fruit, draw a knife along its length, put it on a baking tray and bake in an oven heated to 200°C for 30-40 minutes. Eat the hot, softened flesh with salted butter. A green one can be peeled, cut into 3cm-thick slices and fried in oil for a few minutes on each side until golden. Drain on paper, salt, allow to cool a bit, then flatten the pieces using a plate or tin can and fry for a further minute on each side. Eaten like chips, these popular crispy snacks are known as tostones throughout Latin America. Accompanying dips vary by country. In Puerto Rico tostones are served with a mix of ketchup, mayonnaise and garlic.