If you're thinking about cooking authentic Latin or Caribbean cuisine, you'll probably see plantains on your recipe list. But what if you could only find bananas in your grocery store? Is it OK to cook bananas like plantains?
You can cook unripe green bananas like plantains. Green bananas are similar in texture to plantains, making them suitable for more cooking applications.
However, bananas have far less starch than plantains, which makes them better suited for baking, mashing, or eating raw.
Cooking bananas isn't as common as cooking plantains, but there are some exciting ways to use this fruit in your kitchen routine. Keep reading to find out all our research on cooking with bananas vs. plantains.
Can You Cook Bananas Like Plantains?
It's not "impossible" to cook with bananas like plantains, but it's not as common. Plantains are naturally starchier than bananas, which means they retain their texture even while frying. By contrast, ripe and overripe bananas tend to get mushy under high heat.
However, many chefs use green bananas similarly to plantains. For instance, you can find recipes for frying, boiling, and baking bananas, just like plantains. As an example, here's a simple recipe for fried bananas:
Note: Most people only use unripe green bananas for these applications. The reason for this has to do with the banana's texture. When a banana is under-ripe, it has a firm texture similar to a plantain.
Even though green bananas aren't as naturally sweet as yellow or browning bananas, the cooking process tends to add extra sweetness [especially when you add sugar!]. Plus, it's easier to cook with unripe bananas because they will retain their form better even under high heat.
You could even bake and cook with black bananas. Be sure to read our previous post, "Are Black Bananas Safe To Eat?" to learn more about this topic.
Can You Substitute A Banana For A Plantain?
Just because you can cook a banana like a plantain doesn't mean these fruits are interchangeable. Although bananas and plantains look the same, they have distinct flavor and texture profiles.
As mentioned above, plantains are starchier than bananas. Indeed, plantains are so starchy that most people don't eat them raw like bananas.
Bananas are also naturally sweeter than plantains. By contrast, many people describe plantains as having a mix of "savory" and "sweet" aromatics.
If you were to substitute a banana in a plantain recipe, it wouldn't have the same feel or flavor. A recipe with bananas will likely taste extra sweet compared with the traditional plantain dish.
This isn't to say you can't switch bananas for plantains, but the texture and flavor of your recipe will be noticeably different. Even if you use green bananas rather than plantains, your recipe will likely be far sweeter than the original.
If you want to learn more about the distinctions between plantains vs. bananas, be sure to watch this video:
How Can You Cook Bananas?
One of the reasons bananas are such a popular fruit is due to their versatility. Not only can you eat bananas raw or slip them into smoothies, but there are also dozens of ways to cook and bake them.
Due to bananas' naturally sweet flavor, you'll find this fruit in many dessert recipes. A few classic recipes with bananas include Bananas Foster, banana bread, and banana nut pancakes.
Besides sweet treats, you can cook green bananas similarly to plantains. There are many recipes for fried bananas, mashed bananas, and even banana-infused takes on classic plantain recipes.
For instance, check out this banana rendition of the traditional plantain recipe mofongo:
By the way, if you're thinking about making a decadent banana dessert, check out our previous post, "How Many Layers In A Banana Pudding?"
Do Bananas And Plantains Taste The Same?
Bananas are far sweeter than plantains. Even if you were to compare an unripe green banana to an overripe plantain, the banana would have a more "sugary" profile.
While plantains have a natural sweetness, these "sugary notes" are not as pronounced as in bananas. This is especially true for raw plantains, which are far too starchy to eat.
However, as you sautée or fry plantains, they will naturally caramelize. The riper your plantain is, the sweeter it will be after cooking.
Still, most people don't consider plantains as "dessert fruit" like bananas. It's far more likely to serve cooked plantains as a side to the main course, similar to a potato or other vegetables.
Is It OK To Use A Plantain Instead Of A Banana?
It's far more difficult to substitute a plantain for a banana than the other way around. Since plantains are so starchy, you can't use them as a replacement for raw banana slices. This severely limits the range of applications you could use plantains for versus bananas.
By contrast, it's possible to cook green bananas like plantains. While these cooked bananas won't taste the same as a plantain, it's a viable substitute if you're in a pinch.
While ripe and overripe plantains often have a slightly sweet taste after cooking, they never have the same sweetness as a banana. For this reason, you won't find plantains used in many desserts associated with bananas.
So, it's best to avoid subbing with plantains if a recipe calls for bananas — especially if you need to use raw bananas.
Is It Healthier To Cook Bananas vs. Plantains?
Most nutritionists consider bananas and plantains to have similar nutrient profiles. Both fruits have decent fiber, potassium, and vitamin C concentrations. However, plantains tend to have higher calories and carbs due to their starchy texture.
Other tests reveal overripe plantains and bananas have higher sugar content. The longer you wait to eat or cook either of these fruits, the more natural sugars they will contain as starches break down.
Of course, the nutritional profile of your bananas or plantains largely depends on how you prepare them.
For instance, fried foods are associated with lower total nutrients and higher rates of cardiovascular problems. Added sugars and salts could also affect the nutrition of bananas and plantains.
What's The Best Substitute For A Plantain?
No fruit or vegetable has the exact taste and texture of a plantain. However, green bananas are frequently recommended if you don't have plantains on hand.
It's also common to substitute similar starchy vegetables for plantains. For example, many people use sweet potatoes or yams instead of plantains. Sweet potatoes have a similar balance of starchiness and sweetness that mimics a standard plantain.
Some chefs have also used starchy yucca potatoes instead of plantains. However, the taste of yuccas isn't usually as sweet as yams, plantains, or sweet potatoes, even though it has a similar texture.
How Do Cooked Bananas Taste?
When you add heat to bananas, they will naturally release extra sugar as a part of the caramelization process. This means cooked bananas tend to taste even sweeter and richer than raw bananas.
Since cooking tends to enhance a banana's natural sweetness, most people only cook with this fruit in dessert applications. While it's possible to make side dishes like mashed bananas, the plantain's subtle sweetness tends to be better suited for these recipes.
By the way, if you're interested in making mashed green bananas, consider the following recipe:
How Do You Cook Plantains?
There are dozens of ways to cook plantains, including frying, boiling, baking, and sautéeing. Although you can't eat raw plantains, they have virtually limitless cooking applications in various cuisines.
If you're new to cooking with plantains, it's best to start researching traditional Latin and Caribbean recipes. Plantains are a predominant feature in many iconic recipes originating in Central America and Caribbean islands like Jamaica.
For instance, mofongo is a famous garlicky side dish from Puerto Rico. Learn more about how to use plantains in this recipe below:
It's also common to fry plantains to make a sweet treat or chips. Find out more about this common cooking technique in this YouTube video:
Bottom Line: It's Not "Bananas" To Swap Bananas For Plantains!
Nothing can replace the unique traits of plantains, but you can cook bananas in a similar fashion. Many people are already experimenting with using green bananas in traditional plantain-based recipes.
True, these banana dishes will be sweeter than their plantain counterparts, but they prove you can use unripe bananas for many plantain-related applications. As long as you're OK with less starch and more sugar, try cooking with bananas like plantains.