They certainly look similar, but beyond that, they are not at all the same.
Plantains vs Bananas
When you examine a banana vs a plantain in your hands, the first thing you notice is that the skins are thicker on plantain. Plantains are also quite a bit longer as you can see in the picture above.
Traditionally, plantains are used more like vegetables than fruit. They contain less sugar than bananas, including when fully ripe. Unlike a banana that is mostly yellow with some black spots when it hits full ripeness, plantains are the opposite – maduro or mature (ripe) when they are mostly black with some yellow spots. Overripe plantains are completely black but still not as sweet as bananas.
Even when ripe, plantains are bitter when consumed raw and uncooked. Underripeness makes the bitterness even more pronounced. Unlike bananas, that are a go-to snack across the world, plantains are usually roasted or otherwise cooked.
Plantain Flour vs Banana Flour
Be aware that a few websites incorrectly state that plantain and banana flour are the same thing. This is because plantains are part of the banana family, that encompasses both the freshly eaten and cooked varieties.
Then, to make it more confusing, plantains are sometimes differentiated from “true plantains,” a particular subspecies of the normally cooked varieties. In short, there are so many cultivars of both the cooked and raw types. As a result, local customs and practices and naming varies based on the cultivar(s) regionally available.
At least in the United States, if you try to consume raw plantain flour, you should immediately taste the bitter difference. Even plantain flour made from the cooked rather than raw cultivars will have a clear difference in taste over green banana flour, which is made exclusively from unripe, raw bananas.
Plantains are low in fat and protein. From a macronutrient perspective, they are basically pure carbs. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as discussed further below.
Like bananas, plantains are very high in potassium. One cup of plantain flour contains about 1597 mg. This represents nearly half the required daily value.
Ripe vs Unripe
The high carb load in plantains translates to a high glycemic index (GI). Depending on ripeness and preparation, the GI of a plantain runs anywhere from 40 to 90.
The GI for a raw, fully ripe plantain is 68 (on a 100-point scale). An unripe plantain has GI of about 38.
A ripe plantain that has been boiled for 10 minutes has a GI of 66. In comparison, a unripe plantain boiled for 10 minutes has a GI of 39.
A ripe plantain that has been fried in vegetable oil has a GI of 90. An unripe plantain that has been fried in vegetable oil has a GI of 40. (1)
Thus, boiling a plantain does not change the glycemic load much whether ripe or unripe. However, frying a ripe plantain spikes the GI but leaves an unripe one virtually unchanged.
As with banana flour, plantain is another food with a high resistant starch (RS) content. This undigestible carbohydrate serves as food for beneficial bacteria in the gut. Ironically, even though people generally think of carbs as weight enhancing, some studies are finding that consuming about 30 grams of RS per day can help reduce visceral belly fat. (2, 3)
By comparison, the Standard American Diet only contains about 5 grams of resistant starch per day despite being extremely high in carbs.
Resistant starch is usually highest in raw form. However, unlike bananas, which are palatable when consumed unripe or partially ripe, plantains are not.
The starchy, bitter nature of plantains make them a tough sell uncooked. Although cooking breaks down RS, it then reforms if foods are allowed to cool.
So even though plantains are most palatable when cooked, they can still serve as a decent source of additional RS in the diet if consumed at room temperature or cold.
Baking and Cooking with Plantain Flour
Generally speaking, you can substitute plantain flour 1:1 for banana flour and vice versa in grain free recipes which use them. However, because plantain flour is more bitter, it will alter the taste slightly.
When substituting plantain flour for regular flour in baking recipes, only use three-quarters as much. You may also need to add additional water to the recipe as plantain flour is very “thirsty”.
The good news is that if you mix a tablespoon or two of flour into smoothies as a resistant starch supplement (which is how most people use it), the difference in taste is virtually undetectable. This peanut butter and banana smoothie recipe is my favorite for adding a bit of plantain flour for a boost of resistant starch.
Homemade Plantain Flour
Plantain flour is generally more expensive than banana flour. This is true even though organic plantain flour is hard to find and organic banana flour more readily available. This brand is one of the best as of this writing.
If budget is a concern, you can certainly make it yourself! If you have a food dehydrator, it is quite easy in fact. The 5 plantains in the picture above would make about 2-3 cups of flour at a fraction of the cost of buying it pre-made.
If you are looking for some creative ideas for using plantain flour in recipes, Empowered Sustenance has a good list to check out.
Homemade Plantain Flour Recipe
Simple recipe for making plantain flour at home. It is much less expensive to make than buy pre-made. Only one ingredient is needed: unripe plantains.
- 5 large green plantains unripe
Peel and slice the plantains into circles about 1/4 inch thick.
Spread out on dehydrator trays or cookie sheets (if using the oven).
Set the dehydrator or oven to 140 F/ 60 C and dry out the plantain pieces for about 6 hours. If using an oven and the lowest setting is not 140 F/60 C, consult the user manual as most ovens can be adjusted lower if necessary.
When fully dry, remove the plantain chips and cool.
You can go ahead and eat the chips as is. Lightly salted and/or toasted in avocado oil, they are delicious! But, if you want to continue to make flour, proceed to the next step.
Place the cooled plantain circles in a food processor and pulse until a smooth flour.
Store plantain flour in airtight containers in the pantry or the refrigerator. It will stay good for several months in the refrigerator.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist