Usually, plantains are cooked before they're eaten because they are relatively unpalatable raw, not because they're poisonous. Like bananas, plantains vary in their levels of ripeness. If you choose to eat one raw, choose the blackest -- and therefore sweetest -- one you can find.
Plantains are a starchy fruit that look like an overgrown green banana. You may also find ones that are slightly yellowed and speckled with black spots or in their ripest stage -- fully blackened. Plantains appear most often in Latin American cuisine -- fried or baked. The skin of the plantain is thicker than that of a banana.
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The color of the plantain determines how it should be cooked and served.
Green plantains are the most astringent and least sweet, and they are most often used in savory preparations:
Semi-ripe plantains are yellowish with black spots. They are still quite starchy and pasty, making them better suited for savory preparations. Even in their riper stages, however, plantains hold their shape much better than bananas.
- Grill yellow plantains to caramelize their sugar and attain a slightly sweeter flavor.
- Add yellow plantains to stews for the same characteristics of a potato.
- Make them into tostones as well. The chips will be just a little sweeter than ones made with green plantains.
- Slice yellow plantains, broil them and sprinkle them with cinnamon-sugar for a sweet snack.
You know a plantain is fully ripe when it is completely black and soft to the touch, without any mold. You can eat fully ripened plantains out of hand, but this isn't the best way to enjoy them. Make them into a dessert -- such as a pudding or sweet empanada -- or make a batch of platanos maduros. Just saute chunks of sweet plantain in oil to create a crispy, browned outside with a soft, banana-sweet center. Serve them as a side dish at almost any meal -- at breakfast with eggs and sausage or for lunch or dinner with black beans and stewed pork.
Buy green plantains and allow them to ripen on your counter. To be thoroughly sweet and suitable for eating raw, the ripening process may take several weeks. They must be entirely black or they just won't be very enjoyable.
Peel the ripened plaintains at the ripest stage and eat slices of the slightly pink flesh. Don't expect them to taste as sweet as a banana, however, or to be as tasty as they are when baked or fried.