Can I Swap Bananas with Plantains? We Ask an Expert.
Switching out my daily pre-run ritual for its distant relative
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
I’ll be honest: I spend far too much time in the produce section of the grocery store browsing the fruits and vegetables I’m unfamiliar with. It’s my version of window shopping. Sometimes I’m bold enough to purchase a star fruit or rambutan, but it wasn’t until this year that I picked up a plantain.
Why plantains? Because I religiously eat a banana before every run, whether it’s five miles or 16. They’re fantastic for simple, quick-digesting carbs and they give me the energy boost I need to kickstart my training. I wondered if this distant cousin of the banana would offer the same benefits.
What’s the Difference Between a Banana and a Plantain?
The first question I asked Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CPT, nutrition expert and author was, “Well, what’s the difference?” They look similar enough, after all.
“While there are many similarities between plantains and bananas (like their shape, color, and nutrients), the main difference lies in their carbohydrate content and taste,” Shaw says.
Bananas are naturally sweet and are most commonly eaten raw, whereas plantains have a more starchy taste unless they’re cooked. As far as their nutritional value, the two fruits are fairly similar in all regards except carbohydrates. A 100 gram serving of banana yields 23 grams of carbs and 12 grams of sugar, whereas the same size serving of plantain yields 32 grams of carbohydrates and 18 grams of sugar.
How to Prepare Them
Most people don’t eat plantains raw because of the less-than-sweet flavor profile, but you certainly can.
“The more ripe a plantain (meaning the less green it is), the sweeter it becomes (much like bananas.),” Shaw says. “While there is no problem with eating a plantain raw, you may not get the same enjoyment out of it as you would a banana.”
Grilling them, however, will create a naturally sugary candied taste.
– 2 tsp. butter, melted
– 1 bunch of plantains, yellow and brown
– 2 tsp. cinnamon
1. In a bowl, whisk butter and cinnamon.
2. Slice plantains and brush each side with butter mixture.
3. Heat grill or skillet over medium and cook plantains for about 4 minutes per side.
Cook until plantains are browned and caramelized.
Should I Swap Plantains for Bananas?
I finally purchased two yellow, ripe plantains to test out before my runs. At least in my grocery store, there are no plantain bunches, just single plantains. It cost me $1.38 for two, whereas I can get four or five small bananas in a bunch for about $1.25.
Like clockwork, when it came time for my evening run, I reached for a banana. I had to pull back when I remembered this experiment and opted for a plantain instead. The first day, I ate it raw and was totally underwhelmed. The flavor was bland and the texture was that of an unripe banana – a little chewy. Plus, it was much larger than what I’m used to, so I was worried I’d have undigested plantain sloshing around in my stomach while I ran. But my run went without a hitch, so I repeated the process the next day.
This time, however, I cooked it. It was gooey, mapley sweet, and left me licking my sticky fingers. It felt more like a dessert than a pre-run snack. I bounced out the door and had a great, carb-filled six miles.
Long story short – you could realistically swap plantains for bananas if you wanted to. But as a runner who depends on her daily banana, will I be making the swap? No, not likely. Not because cooked plantains aren’t delicious, but because they aren’t nearly as convenient. I’m happy to have tried it though, and certainly plan on topping some dairy-free vanilla ice cream with grilled plantains as a late-night dessert.