What is Plantain?

A cooking plantain or plantain is one of the cultivated varieties (cultivars) of the genus Musa whose fruit is intended to be consumed only after cooking or other processing, rather than being eaten raw. The shoot is also used to make food and soups in various cuisines and the leaves and fibers are also used.

When the fruits are intended to be eaten raw they are known as "dessert bananas" or just "bananas", although "banana" is also used as a collective term to include both bananas and plantains. There is no formal botanical distinction between the two. In some countries, there may appear to be a clear distinction between cooking plantains and dessert bananas, but in other countries, where many more cultivars are consumed, the differences are not so clear-cut and the distinction is not made in the common names used there. The difference between the two terms "plantain" and "banana", used here, is based purely on how the fruits are consumed. Plantains are typically eaten cooked and are usually large, angular and starchy, in contrast to dessert bananas, which are typically eaten raw and are usually smaller, more rounded and sugary. A subgroup of plantain cultivars may be distinguished as "true" plantains.

All modern plantain cultivars have three sets of chromosomes (i.e. they are triploid). Many are hybrids derived from the cross of two wild species, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. The currently accepted scientific name for all such crosses is Musa X paradisiaca. Using Simmonds and Shepherds' (1955) genome-based nomenclature system, cultivars which are used cooked often belong to the AAB Group, although some, like the East African Highland bananas, belong to the AAA Group, and others, such as Saba bananas, belong to the ABB Group.

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