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Is a Plantain a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Green and yellow plantains side by side.
Sergio Amiti/Moment/GettyImages

Is a plantain a vegetable or a fruit? The plantain (‌Musa balbisiana‌, USDA plant hardiness zones 9 to 12) may seem like a veggie because it requires cooking before eating like many starchy vegetables. ‌But a plantain is most definitely a fruit.

What Is a Plantain?

A plantain is a cousin, if you will, of the type of banana you usually find in the grocery store, which is a ‌Musa acuminata‌, although many hybrids exist between the ‌M. balbisiana‌ and ‌M. acuminata‌. Plantains, like bananas, are neither trees nor palms, as is commonly thought. Instead, they are herbaceous herbs, the largest in the world. Their trunks are not really trunks; they are stalks.

Where do plantains come from?

Both plantains and bananas are native to Southeast Asia and have spread to other tropical and warm subtropical areas in the world. Plantain fruits are an important part of people's diets in southern India, parts of Africa and tropical America.

In the U.S., bananas and plantains are grown commercially in Hawaii, with some limited production in Florida.

Plantain Nutrition Facts

Plantains are a powerhouse food, so they are a great option as a replacement for a potato, for instance.

While they are similar in calories to a potato, they have more vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C and B-6, along with magnesium and potassium. For example, a cup of baked plantain has 663 milligrams of potassium, 57 milligrams of magnesium and 23 milligrams of vitamin C. They are also packed with fiber.

Fried plantains on a white plate with a small cup of red sauce.
Edithobayaa1, CC SA-4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How to Eat a Plantain

When cooked, plantains become sweet and succulent, while raw plantains might taste much like a raw potato. You can bake them, fry them or grill them. Recipes featuring plantains have become more popular recently in the U.S., where you can find them featured in restaurants and by celebrity chefs, including Martha Stewart and Guy Fieri.

You're likely to come across fried plantains that are greasy and covered with a heavy topping, such as sour cream. This is how plantains were routinely prepared and served, at least in restaurants, until recently. Because plantains easily absorb oil, this exponentially increases the fat and calorie count. But there are countless ways to prepare plantains.

It's possible to cook green plantains by boiling and mashing them and then flattening and frying them. But ripe plantains have a richer flavor, because they will caramelize when you bake them or fry them, becoming naturally sweet. You can also boil them by removing the skin, cutting them into chunks and cooking them the way you would potatoes.

Add baked or boiled plantains to soups or stews or serve them as a side.

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