Yes, you can absolutely buy plantains at most grocery stores. Plantains are a staple ingredient in many cuisines around the world, so they have become more readily available at mainstream grocers. While you may need to check the produce section closely, you should be able to find plantains fresh or even frozen at many supermarkets.
What are plantains?
Plantains are a member of the banana family, though they are not considered a dessert banana because they are less sweet. Green plantains are firm and starchy, similar to a potato. As they ripen, they become softer and sweeter. Yellow plantains can be fried, baked, or roasted and have a mild sweet flavor. Black plantains are very soft and sweet with a rich, molasses-like flavor.
Where can I buy plantains?
Here are some tips on where to find plantains at the grocery store:
Ethnic markets like Hispanic, Caribbean, African, or Asian markets are very likely to carry fresh plantains. These stores will have the best selection and lowest prices since plantains are dietary staples in the cuisines of their communities.
Major supermarket chains
Large supermarket chains like Walmart, Kroger, Safeway, Publix, etc. now stock plantains regularly due to increasing demand. Check the produce section near the bananas. The selection may be smaller than an ethnic market but you should find basic green, yellow, and black plantains.
Natural foods stores like Whole Foods or Sprouts, as well as upscale chains like Wegmans often sell plantains. They are catching on as an exotic, versatile fruit. The plantains may be more pricey than at an ethnic market.
If you have a local farmers market, check for produce stands selling tropical or exotic fruits and veggies. When in season, small farms may offer plantains. This is a good place to find freshly picked, local plantains.
If you can’t find fresh, most supermarkets have frozen plantains. The texture will be softer but they can still be used in cooked dishes. Goya is the most common brand of frozen plantains.
How to choose fresh plantains
Picking ripe, high-quality plantains is important since they can’t be eaten raw. Here’s what to look for:
Green plantains are firm and starchy. Yellow plantains are softer and sweet. Black plantains are very ripe with a rich, sweet flavor.
Green and yellow plantains should feel firm with no mushy spots. Black plantains will feel softer. Avoid plantains with cuts, mold or bruising.
Plantains come in various sizes but average 5-9 inches long. Choose similar sized plantains for even cooking. Mini plantains are tasty but don’t yield as much flesh.
The stems and tips should look fresh, not dried out. Plantains are highly perishable so inspect them closely.
How to store plantains
Plantains require special care to ripen properly and avoid spoiling. Here are some storage tips:
Store plantains at room temperature. Refrigeration can damage the peel and alter ripening.
High humidity helps plantains ripen. Put plantains in a paper bag with an apple, banana or tomato to increase humidity.
Lay green and yellow plantains on their sides. Stand black plantains up to avoid crushing their soft skins.
Plantains ripen from green to yellow to black. Separate different ripeness levels so ethylene gas doesn’t speed up ripening.
Plantains ripen in about 1 week at room temperature. Yellow plantains last 3-5 days. Use black plantains immediately.
How to use plantains
Here are some delicious ways to cook with plantains:
- Fry green plantain chips – Slice thinly and fry in oil
- Mash like potatoes – Boil and mash with butter, milk and seasoning
- Make tostones – Smash fried green plantains into snack cakes
- Use in stews and curries – Substitute for potatoes in savory dishes
- Fry sweet maduros – Fry sliced yellow plantains in oil and season with salt
- Roast slices – Brush with oil and roast
- Saute chunks – Brown in butter or oil for a side dish
- Bake into casseroles – Add sweetness to casseroles and gratins
- Make caramelized maduros – Fry and caramelize black plantain slices in oil and sugar
- Blend into sweet desserts – Puree into ice cream, custards, or smoothies
- Bake into breads – Mash and add to banana bread or pancake batter
- Make chips – Dehydrate thin slices for sweet plantain chips
Nutrition of plantains
Plantains offer several key nutrients:
|1 cup raw plantain
|High source of fiber for digestion
|Vitamin C 35%
|Immune boosting antioxidant
|Electrolyte for muscles and nerves
|Vitamin A 15%
|Important for eye and skin health
|Bone strengthening mineral
Green plantains are higher in starch and fiber. As they ripen, the carbohydrate profile shifts to more sugars. But the high fiber keeps the glycemic index low compared to other sweet fruits.
Do plantains have health benefits?
Some emerging research shows plantains may offer additional health perks:
Improve heart health
The potassium in plantains helps maintain normal blood pressure. Plantains are low in fat and high in fiber which supports heart health.
The high fiber content in plantains can help improve digestive regularity and promote a healthy gut.
Plantains contain vitamin C, an antioxidant that stimulates the immune system to fight infection.
Control blood sugar
The resistant starch and fiber in green plantains helps slow absorption of sugars, which may help regulate blood sugar levels.
Promote eye health
Plantains contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are important for eye health and reducing UV damage.
Do plantains have any risks?
Plantains are safe for most people but here are some considerations:
Plantains are related to bananas and can cause reactions in people allergic to latex or bananas.
The thick peel protects the fruit but chemical residues can be a concern. Opt for organic when possible or thoroughly wash non-organic plantains.
Some find plantains cause digestive discomfort. Introduce them cooked, not raw, and discontinue use if you experience reactions.
Carbs and calories
While healthier than dessert banana, ripe plantains are high in carbs and calories so portion sizes should be monitored.
Diabetics and pre-diabetics should monitor blood sugar when adding ripe, sweet plantains to the diet.
Plantains offer a versatile, nutrient-dense fruit option beyond typical grocery store offerings. Their popularity is rising due to greater availability, nutritional benefits, and role in diverse cuisines. With proper selection and storage, plantains can be an easy, delicious way to add nutrition, variety and new flavors to your cooking routine. Look for them in major supermarkets, ethnic markets, or specialty grocers and explore the many delicious ways to enjoy this misunderstood member of the banana family.