Is Plantain a Fruit or Vegetable?

Do you love plantains? Are you wondering – is plantain a fruit of vegetable?

This is a fun question because it has both scientific and culinary answers. Plantains are often confused with bananas because they look similar. 

I’ve always wondered whether plantains were really fruit or vegetable. They look like bananas, but they are used for cooking like potatoes. They also bring high nutritional value. 

But since I was wondering, I decided to do some research and find out the answer. In this article, I’ll share everything I learned about plantains. 

Green Plantains
Green Plantains

Is Plantain a Fruit or Vegetable?

The plantain is a fruit and belongs to the Musa genus of the banana family, which may explain the resemblance. They are found in yellow or green colors, and can be eaten or used whether unripe or ripe. When green, they are more difficult to peel.

Green plantains are often boiled or fried. Yellow plantains are used to make chips and stir-fry dishes. When a plantain ripens to the point of becoming black, they turn sweet and soft. They can be eaten with or without cooking when black.

If we consider how plantains are used in the culinary sense, it’s quite natural to wonder if they are fruits or vegetables. Their appearance somewhat contradicts their use.

Plantains resemble bananas externally. However, they are completely different in taste and texture.

Why Is Plantain a Fruit?

Plantains are often mistaken for bananas because of how similar they look. They are both related and belong to the Musaceae or banana plant family.

The plantain plant is actually botanically classified as a gigantic herb. The plant grows from an underground rhizome that is 12 to 15 feet long. Leaves are giant, measuring 2 feet wide and up to 9 feet long. 

The plantain plant requires 10 to 15 months to flower in tepid temperatures. Once the plant flowers, it needs 4 to 8 months for fruit to develop. The plantain plant’s fruit is identified as a berry.

There are two standard types of plantains: the French plantain and the Horn plantain. Both have a very similar shape, size, color, and flavor.

French plantains are usually sold at markets. They are harvested during the rainy season between July and September. They are then dried in the sun until they reach maturity. This process takes approximately three weeks.

Horn plantains are typically grown in tropical climates such as Africa, Asia, and South America. These plants are harvested before they mature. 

Plantains Growing on Tree
Plantains Growing on Tree

Why Is Plantain a Vegetable?

Plantains are classified as vegetables from a culinary perspective, but are not vegetables in the botanical definition. Much like a tomato, a plantain is served as a vegetable.

When used in cooking, they resemble potatoes in preparation and use. You can mash them, boil them, fry them, or create chips out of them.

They contain very little sugar, but have a high starch content. Plantains are staples in savory dishes found in Central American, South American, and Caribbean cuisine.

What Is a Plantain? Where Does It Come From?

Plantain is a tropical fruit with its native habitat found in Southeast Asia. They are very popular in Southeastern countries, Thailand, and the Philippines.

The top producer of plantains is Cameroon, but the largest exporter is Ecuador.

Happily, this fruit is available globally year-round. Plantains are used regularly in the Caribbean and are also quite popular in cooking found in the southern United States. 

Plantain vs. Banana: What’s the Difference?

Plantains and bananas do share some common attributes. They both begin with growing green, and their skin eventually turns yellow. As they ripen, they will begin to darken, becoming brown and then black. Both plantains and bananas grow in bunches known as hands.

Although plantains resemble bananas, they are larger and longer.  They also have a higher starch content and a thicker skin than bananas.

The principal differences between these two fruits are their taste, and their culinary use. Bananas and plantains cannot be substituted for one another in recipes because the taste is so different.

Bananas are generally not cooked except rarely when green. Plantains instead need to be cooked. Even when black, completely ripened, and sweeter, many still prefer plantains cooked.

Plantain Chips
Plantain Chips

Many people think that a black, ripe plantain is one that has gone bad. But actually that is when they’re at their best.

When a plantain is ripe, it’s best when it’s mostly dark brown with some yellow, and still slightly firm to the touch.

Both fruits are highly nutritious. They contain vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber. A principal difference is found in their carb content. The carbs in bananas come from sugars. The plantain carbs come from starches.

Here is a comparison of the nutrients found in a half cup of both the banana and plantain.

BananasFruitPlantains
89Calories122
3 grDietary Fiber2 gr
23 grCarbohydrates32 gr
9 mgVitamin C18 mg
358 mgPotassium487 mg
27 mgMagnesium36 mg

What Makes the Banana Unique?

While there are numerous varieties of bananas, we generally think of the sweet yellow bananas in grocery stores. They originate in the Malay Archipelago in Southeastern Asia.

They will usually be slender and long in shape with a thick skin. When harvested unripened, the skin will be tough and green, making it difficult to peel.

As ripening proceeds, bananas turn yellow, then brown and will become easier to peel. The banana is usually enjoyed raw.

The flesh turns sweeter, softer, and darker as ripening continues. Bananas can be used when ripe in desserts. When still unripe and green, they can be boiled and mashed to use in cooking.

What Makes the Plantain Unique?

One glaring difference between the two fruits is that plantains are usually eaten cooked and not raw. They share similar colors and shapes, and they originate in Southeast Asia like their banana relative.

When harvested, the plantain is tougher with a skin that is considerably thicker. They are not sweet when green. Sweetness will increase with ripening and cooking.

Is Plantain a Fruit or Vegetable? Final Thoughts

To an untrained eye, these bananas and plantains can easily be confused because of their physical similarities. When tasted, they are easily distinguished.

Nutritional content is also similar as are several cooking methods. Plantains work well in savory cuisine while bananas are appreciated in desserts. Both are healthy additions to your diet.

For more edible plants and their classification as a fruit or vegetable, check out these articles: 

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Written by:

Denise Davis
Denise Davis is an avid gardener, deeply rooted in growing organic veggies and crafting homemade fertilizers. She cherishes the earthy essence of composting and the continuous learning that gardening provides. Denise sees gardening as a holistic activity, offering physical and mental benefits alongside the joy of consuming what you cultivate. Her passion is to inspire others to embrace gardening as a rewarding, healthful lifestyle.

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