9 Ways To Add Plantains To Your Diet | Chris Kresser

9 Ways to Add Plantains to Your Diet

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Plantains aren’t very popular in the U.S., but they’re one of the most delicious, nutrient-dense, and versatile “safe starches” you can find. Read on to learn nine great ways to incorporate plantains into your diet.

plantains paleo
Plantains are a great source of resistant starch and can be used in a variety of ways. tpzijl/iStock/Thinkstock

Plantains are a staple in Latin American cooking, but they’re relatively unknown in the US, Canada, and other western, industrialized countries. This is unfortunate, because they’re one of the most versatile starches available (as you will see below). They’re also rich in nutrients like potassium, beta carotene, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, and a good source of dietary fiber.

While I’m a huge fan of plantains, I’ll admit they have a couple of disadvantages as a staple starch, at least in the U.S.: they’re difficult to find in some places (especially organic), and they are shipped from places like Mexico and Central America. I make a big effort to eat locally for many reasons, and that is simply not possible with plantains.

Got plantains? Discover 9 delicious ways to eat this Paleo-friendly starch.

That said, if you live in a place where they are available (try Latin markets if your supermarket doesn’t stock them), they can make a great occasional addition to your diet.

Plantains can be prepared in numerous ways, and their flavor ranges from savory to sweet, depending on ripeness. Green (unripe) plantains are savory, while yellow/black (ripe) plantains will be quite sweet.

Make sure to use the correct type of plantains called for in each preparation method below.

#1: Fried Plantains

This is the method that most people who’ve eaten plantains are probably familiar with, as it’s common in Latin American cuisine. If you’ve ever eaten at a Brazilian restaurant, or spent time in Costa Rica or Nicaragua, you’ve probably had fried plantains.   

Preparation:
Use plantains that are somewhere between just starting to ripen (light yellow) to very ripe (yellow with black spots), depending on your preference. I happen to like them not as sweet, so I go with light yellow/green. Slice them into 1/2 inch rounds, and fry at medium heat with expeller-pressed coconut oil, ghee, lard, or other stable cooking fat.

#2: Plantain Chips

You’ll need a dehydrator (this is a good starter model) to make these, but they’re worth the effort. Plantain chips are not only delicious, they’re also a great source of resistant starch, which has many benefits. And they make an ideal travel snack and addition to your children’s lunch boxes.

(Note that plantain chips will only contain resistant starch when they’re made with a dehydrator, since cooking plantains at higher temperatures destroys most of the resistant starch they contain.)

Preparation:
Buy green plantains, slice into 1/4” rounds, add sea salt to taste, and place in a dehydrator. Dehydrate until crisp.

#3: Plantain Tortillas

This is one of my “secret” uses of plantains, but I can’t claim to have figured it out on my own. I learned the recipe from Simone Shifnadel, the author of The Zenbelly Cookbook (one of my top 3 favorite Paleo cookbooks).

I grew up eating a lot of Mexican food, so I like to have a “taco night” every now and then. When we do, we’ll make seasoned ground beef, prepare bunch of toppings (tomatoes, lettuce, avocados, fresh salsa, etc.) and wrap it all in these plantain tortillas. Yum!

Here’s the recipe, which Simone has graciously allowed me to post here. Check out her book for some other fantastic creations. She catered my book launch party last year, and the food was incredible.

*Make sure you have parchment paper for this recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 yellow plantains (about 2 to 2 & 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/3 cup egg whites (2 to 3 large eggs)
  • 3 tablespoons lard or fat of your choice, melted, plus more for greasing the parchment paper
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Peel the plantains by cutting off the tops and bottoms and slicing through the skin along the length of the plantain.
  • Roughly chop the plantains and place in the bowl of a food processor or high-speed blender.
  • Add the egg whites, melted lard, salt, and lime juice. Blend until very smooth.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or work in batches if you only have one).
  • Grease the parchment paper liberally.
  • Using a small ladle or disher, drop four 1/4-cup portions of batter onto each pan, leaving plenty of room between each one.
  • Using the ladle and/or a rubber spatula, smooth out the batter into thin circles. Get them as thin as you can while still keeping them intact.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are dry to the touch and just starting to brown at the edges. If using two pans at once, switch halfway through.
  • Repeat with the remaining batter, making sure to grease the parchment paper each time.

#4: Plantain Pancakes & Waffles

I’ve never been fully satisfied with the Paleo pancakes made from almond and coconut flours. They don’t get fluffy like pancakes should, and many people are sensitive to nuts or the insoluble fiber in coconut flour.

The great thing about these pancakes/waffles is they’re not only gluten- and grain-free, they’re also nut- and flour-free! They’re made with whole plantains and eggs, so eating these is really not that different than having scrambled eggs and sliced plantains for breakfast. Guilt-free pancakes!

And if you have kids, these will be an absolute hit. Sylvie loves them to death.

The recipe comes from Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, aka The Paleo Mom. You can find it here. She’s got a lot of other great recipes for people following an autoimmune Paleo diet on her blog, as well as an autoimmune Paleo cookbook. Check them out!

#5: Smashed Plantains

This one comes from Brendan & Megan Keatley over at Health-Bent, another fantastic blog for Paleo foodies.

This is a very simple—yet nourishing and hearty—recipe. You can use smashed plantains as a savory substitute for mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes.

Check out the recipe here (and make sure to poke around their site for other delicious recipes).

#6: Garlic Tostones

Tostones—also known as patacones, chatinos (Cuba), fritos verdes (Dominican Republic), and banan peze (Haiti)—are fried slices of (usually) green plantains. They differ from the fried plantains in #1 in that they are often smashed after cooking, and sometimes twice-fried.

Here is a recipe for tostones that I found online. I would recommend using expeller-pressed coconut oil or ghee for frying, rather than the vegetable oil they suggest. If you are sensitive to FODMAPs, simply omit the garlic.

#7: Plantain Soup (Crema de Plátano Verde)

This is a simple, cheap, and delicious soup that can be enjoyed at any time of year, but is particularly nourishing during the winter months.

Here’s a traditional recipe that you can work from. We will typically add either bacon or shredded chicken—or sometimes both.

#8: Mofongo

Mofongo is essentially fried green plantains that are mashed and mixed with bacon and fat. They can be served as a side with any meat dish, formed into small balls and dropped into soups, or used to stuff meats and vegetables.

Here is a recipe that can get you started. Again, I’d suggest using expeller-pressed coconut oil or lard as the cooking fat rather than canola oil.

#9: Plantain Stuffing

I had to include this one with the holidays approaching. If you’re looking for an alternative to bread stuffing, and don’t want to use a meat-based Paleo stuffing, this is a good choice.

Here is a recipe that looks good. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, substitute a safer cooking fat like ghee or expeller-pressed coconut oil for vegetable oil. (Note: I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m planning on it for Thanksgiving this week.)

There are so many more dishes that I could have listed here, including deserts like Platanos al Amibar, stews like Sancocho, and holiday dishes like Pasteles en Hoja (time consuming, but worth it!). Plantains really are incredibly versatile.

  1. The garlic tostones went in the “make this now” category. I just finished eating an entire plantain prepared this way, and it was delicious, as well as satisfying the crispiness factor I’ve missed.

    Thank you Chris for this post. I needed a non-potato, non-grain starch, and my first attempt a while back with dried plantain chips: well; I hated them.

    Next on my list are the pancakes, but I wanted to start small and had bought just one plantain this morning to try fried. I made only 3 slices at first, not sure I’d like them. I quickly fried the rest, and ate it all, sitting in my hammock on this sunny fall day in the desert Southwest, while observing that the color of the tostones matched that of the turning leaves.

  2. Pastelón! Plantains and ground beef ‘lasagna.’ Some Cuban restaurants have it. Don’t see it much here on the west coast, but this is the first thing I look for when I arrive in Miami.

  3. Thanks for the ideas, very helpful. I found plantains on amazon, guilty for that, but good quality and price. I use some and freeze some, pretty handy. Found yuca there as well, they’re good combined to make tortillas. Any recipes for yuca?

    • YUCA!!! Help us out on this one Chris… Do a resistant starch/ glycemic info on this child-like favorite of mine!!! Delishious food!!!

  4. WHAT is the difference between plantain and banana?? I’ve looked this up on the internet but don’t really SEE any difference… Also: Do green bananas have any value in some manner of preparation?

  5. What do you think about using yuca? I’m seeing a lot of paleo recipes that use yuca or tapioca to make tortillas and dough for pocket recipes.

  6. Thank you so much for spreading the word about plantains and for sharing the recipes. Growing up I couldn’t get enough tostones and mofongo. It’s great to see such creative ways to cook them.

  7. Is dehydrating plantain chip the only way to get resistance starch from eating plantain? I like plantain but I’m sensitive to sugar, would love to get more RS though.

  8. I grew up eating fried plantains, after all I grew up in Guatemala, definitely a staple! Favorite way to eat so far: fried plantains with some coconut butter melted on top and cinnamon. Delicious! 🙂

  9. Hi Chris, I would love to incorporate more plantains into my diet, but I am battling yeast – are they safe?

    I am trying to walk a very light line between getting enough carbs (for my thyroid) and not feeding (yeast)? Any wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you so much for your work. Nasa

  10. Hi I’m in the uk. Get my plantains from most ethnic shop s 3 for a uk £. I steam mine approx 7 mins chopped or sliced lengthways , then either coconut oil or honey really great taste.. 2 for a boy and 1 for a girlie he he!

  11. Would love to eat plantains, but am on the FODMAPS diet and have not found any reference to them on the lists I have seen. Do you happen to know if they are okay?

  12. Chris,
    As a New Yorker with a lot of Latin American and Caribbean friends, I was familiar with plantains but never prepared them myself. You were the one who turned me on to making green plantain pancakes, which are delicious, and thinking of plantains as a good Paleo carb. I love these expanded recipe ideas. Thanks a lot.

  13. Hi!!!
    It’s safe to eat them if i have fructose malabpsortion? I don’t eat nothing with fructose, never. Maybe I could have some and I am exagerating!!!!
    I would love to eat plantains :))))

    THANKS FOR YOUR HELP!!

  14. I buy plantains when I find them, but only organic, barely ripe ones. Even in a town (Sacramento) with Whole Foods, an excellent co-op and other good markets, I don’t find them very often. And it is easy to find organic bananas. At least once a week, I find barely ripe ones.

    • I live on the SF peninsula. Where are you finding organic plantains in Sacto? Store names . I can’t find them anywhere here. Thanks.

  15. For the plantains that are on the riper side, here’s a way I like to prepare them:

    Slice and fry in coconut oil, being careful not to burn them. Turn once and let some get mashed a little. Sprinkle with salt and cinnamon then add a couple dollops of coconut milk. Stir to incorporate all the ingredients and then serve.

    Another variation is to use vanilla and a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice in place of the cinnamon. Sometimes a bit of butter added at the end is nice.

  16. Hi Chris,

    While I personally like plantains, when comparing their nutritients to say bananas they come out virtually equal in every metric measured (except for beta carotene, plantains win this out pretty heavily). Granted bananas are a bit sweeter, but also much more easily available. What’s your take on bananas vs plantains?

    Cheers, Nils

    • Bananas are mostly glucose and fructose, whereas plantains are a starch (with some glucose and fructose, depending on ripeness). For this reason they aren’t usually interchangeable in recipes, but you’re welcome to give it a try!

      • Hmmm. Seems like a banana that is barely not chalky would have lots less glucose and fructose than a very ripe plantain. Not true?

      • Actually, raw green bananas have more resistant starch than cooked plantains, and uncooked rolled oats have far more than either. (From a link in the Amy Nett article on RS on your site)

    • I use green bananas in a crepe recipe that calls for plantains because I can’t find organic plantains. It works great.

    • “Bananas contained 1% starch when fully ripe and none when overripe, whereas plantains contained about 9% starch when fully ripe and 3% when overripe (composition expressed as percentage fresh weight). Total sugar content was 23% in fully ripe and overripe bananas but in plantains it increased from 20% when fully ripe to 27% when overripe. The ratio of glucose:fructose was approximately unity for bananas and plantains at all stages of ripeness. Sucrose comprised more than 70% of the total sugars in fully ripe bananas and plantains and about half of the total sugars in overripe fruits.”

      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jsfa.2740321011/pdf

    • Here is the key info:

      “In unripe plantains, starch comprises over 80% of the dry weight of the pulp. The two main components of this starch are
      amylose and amylopectin, present in a ratio of approximately 1:5. Sugars comprise only about 1.3% of total dry matter in
      unripe plantains, but this rises to about 17 % in the ripe fruit (Tables 2a & 2b). In bananas, starch level in the unripe fruit
      is about 20%, and this declines to 1-2% in the fully ripe fruit, while at the same time the soluble sugar increases from less
      than 1 to 20%. During ripening, the sugars are in the approximate ratio of 20:15:65 of glucose, fructose and sucrose
      respectively.”

      from: http://thebananaboard.org/pdf/RipeningManual.pdf

      And see generally: http://bit.ly/1Ft6itQ

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