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Musa × paradisiaca
The plantain (pronounced [plæntɪn] or [plæntn]) is a species of the genus Musa and is generally used for cooking, in contrast to the soft, sweet banana (which is sometimes called the dessert banana). The population of North America was first introduced to the banana plantain, and colloquially in the United States and Europe the term “banana” refers to that variety. The word “banana” is often used incorrectly to describe other plantain varieties as well, when in fact the generic name is “plantain” and the specific varieties are cooking plantain, banana plantain, bocadillo plantain (the little one), etc. All members of the genus Musa are indigenous to the tropical region of Southeast Asia, including the Malay Archipelago and northern Australia.
Plantains tend to be firmer and lower in sugar content than dessert bananas and are used either when green or under-ripe (and therefore starchy) or overripe (and therefore sweet). Plantains are a staple food in the tropical regions of the world, treated in much the same way as potatoes and with a similar neutral flavour and texture when unripe. They are grown as far north as Florida, the Caribbean, the Canary Islands, Madeira, Egypt, and southern Japan or Taiwan and as far south as KwaZulu-Natal and southern Brazil. The largest exporter of plantains to the United States is Colombia.
The common plantain species Musa paradisiaca, has many varieties. Bananas (or sapientum) are a sub-species of plantains, and were formerly regarded as a separate species. Bananas are eaten raw, while plantains require cooking. The species is likely native of India and Southern Asia. It is assumed that the Portuguese Franciscan friars were responsible for the introduction of plantains to the Caribbean islands and other parts of the Americas. The Spaniards, who saw a similarity to the plane tree that grows in Spain, gave the plantain its Spanish name, plátano.
Plantain will flower only once, and all the flowers grow at the end of its shoot in separate bunches. Only the first few bunches will become fruits. Those that do not become fruit are used for cooking, and are often chopped and fried with masala powder. In Vietnam the flower is used in salad. In Cuisine of Laos, the banana flower is typically eaten raw in vermicelli soups.
Traditionally plantain leaves are used like plates in several dishes, such as Venezuelan Hallacas, while serving South Indian Thali or during sadhya. They add a subtle but essential aroma to the dish. The leaves are fairly widely available in grocery stores or open air markets in Venezuela and can exceed two meters in length. They are also used to stimulate appetite as a fragrant smell is given off when hot food is placed on top of the leaf. In Nicaragua they wrap their Nacatamales and also used for their Vigoron, Vaho and other dishes… In Honduras, Costa Rica, and Colombia, these are usually used to wrap tamales before and while cooking, and they can be used to wrap any kind of seasoned meat while cooking to keep the flavor in. In the Dominican Republic, the plantain is the country’s main food source and is used just as much if not, more than rice. Mangu and Sancocho are 2 signature dishes that revolve around the plantain.
Plantain leaves are similar to banana leaves but are larger and stronger, therefore reducing waste. They are lightly smoked over an open fire and this adds to their toughness, their storage properties and the flavour they give. With plantain leaves there is a lot less disposal (pieces too small to use) than with banana leaves, which makes them a better choice.