Plantains are hard, starchy bananas used for cooking, as contrasted with the soft, sweet dessert varieties. Plantains are a staple food in the tropical regions of the world, treated in much the same way as potatoes and with a similar neutral flavour and texture when unripe. It is unknown whether plantains were grown in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans.
Ripe plantains can be eaten raw, or they can be used for cooking at any stage of ripeness. Green plantains are firm and starchy and resemble potatoes in flavour. Yellow plantains are still firm and starchy but slightly sweeter. Extremely ripe plantains are black, with a soft deep yellow pulp that is much sweeter than the earlier stages of ripeness. These black plantains can be used in sweet dishes, but they still must be cooked.
Plantains are also dried and ground into flour; banana meal forms an important foodstuff, with the following constituents: water 10.62, albuminoids 3.55, fat 1.15, carbohydrates 81.67 (more than 2/3 starch), fibre 1.15, phosphates 0.26, other salts, 1.60. The sugar is chiefly sucrose.
Plantain fruit can be brewed into an alcoholic drink. The rootstock which bears the leaves is soft and full of starch just before the flowering period, and it is sometimes used as food in Ethiopia; the young shoots of several species are cooked and eaten.