At Gingerhill, we propagate multiple types of plantains and bananas, adding variety to our diets in terms of both nutrition and flavor. Because we seek to grow the healthiest organic food Hawaii can produce, we thoroughly research the nutritional benefits of the food we plant. A deeper dig into the profiles of the two fruits reveals that, though they look similar, their dietary properties are actually very different. Below we explore the many similarities and differences between plantains and bananas and present compelling reasons to consume both of these delicious tropical fruits.

What’s Beneath the Skin…

If you’ve ever traveled to a Latin American country, you are probably familiar with plantains. Though plantains are closely related to bananas, the two fruits have vastly different qualities. Their appearances are not so divergent; plantains look like larger, longer bananas with a thick, green skin. However, the quality of the fruit beneath the skin is far less sweet than that of the banana.

Unlike bananas, which are higher in water and can be eaten raw, plantains are dry and dense. Thus, they are almost always eaten cooked. Because it is starchy instead of sweet, we prepare the plantain like a vegetable, Ayurveda Hawaii style. Traditionally, the plantain is typically baked, roasted, or fried and incorporated into savory dishes. A native to India and the Caribbean, the plantain is actually a popular feature of Latin American cuisine and is usually cooked with rice and beans. It is also among the fantastic organic food Hawaii has to offer.

Bananas and Plantains: Nutritional Difference

Bananas and plantains differ not only in their taste and preparation, but also in their nutritional content. It may initially appear that bananas are a healthier option. Indeed, bananas contain 134 calories per cup, in contrast to plantain’s 181 calories. Bananas are also lower in carbs at 34 grams a serving, 13 grams less than a serving of plantains. However, in comparing plantains and bananas, it is important to consider quality instead of zeroing in on the quantity of macronutrients. Although bananas contain fewer carbs than plantains, more of those carbohydrates are sugars. Thus, bananas raise blood sugar more quickly than plantains. Bananas have a glycemic index of 51, where plantains have a glycemic index of only 38. Therefore, plantains may be a better option for those looking to maintain stable energy levels, regulate blood sugar, and lose weight.

The Importance of Micronutrients

Though bananas and plantains contain comparable amounts of fiber and protein, they differ in their micronutrient content. In general, plantains contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals. Plantains and bananas are both rich in Vitamin C, which guards cells against oxidative damage. If you are looking to increase your intake of Vitamin C, the plantain is a better choice, containing 45% of the RDA—twice that of bananas. The plantain also surpasses the banana in Vitamin A content quite significantly. Vitamin A is critical to maintaining cellular health and reducing inflammation. The banana’s 96 IU’s of Vitamin A pale in comparison to the plantain’s 1668 IU’s, making plantains a better option for those with inflammatory conditions.

Both fruits are also excellent sources of potassium. Again the plantain outperforms the banana at 739 mg per serving, far exceeding the banana’s 537mg per serving. Those looking to balance their electrolytes and regulate their blood pressure should therefore choose plantains over bananas. Finally, plantains contain higher levels of magnesium at 55mg preserving, in contrast to banana’s 41mg. Magnesium aids in calcium absorption, regulates carbohydrate metabolism, and improves insulin response, headaches, insomnia, and depression. Thus, though health experts tout bananas for their mood-boosting properties, those suffering from mental ailments would actually benefit more significantly from eating plantains.

Don’t Discredit the Banana

The nutrient density of plantains does not completely discredit the nutritional integrity of bananas. We consider both plantains and bananas to be among the healthiest organic food Hawaii is home to. Both of these tropical fruits boost immunity, improve digestion, and prevent aging, diseases, and cancers that result from free radical damage. Bananas are particularly great for athletes, as they contain sugars that the body can quickly convert into energy. However, the plantain boasts a micronutrient profile that overshadows that of the banana and is arguably more versatile in cooking.

Differences in Cultivation

But what is there to say about the cultivation of these two tropical relatives? Both bananas and plantains are technically herbs and belong to the Musa genus. They are herbaceous perennials that grow from underground rhizomes, or subterranean stems, and rapidly so, flowering within 10-15 months of planting. They require only an additional 4-8 months to fruit if grown properly, although some farmers propagate them as ornamentals as well. Their rapid growth places them among the most convenient, calorie dense sources of organic food Hawaii has to offer.

Though the two fruits have very different tastes, they require the same growing conditions. Both bananas and plantains must grow in dark, fertile, nitrogen-rich, and well-draining soil–the kind of soil we use to grow much of the organic food Hawaii offers. They also require steady warmth and moisture. Thus, they are ill suited to extremely hot and dry or wet and cold climates. The two species are best planted in “clumps” of several plants in close proximity for the sake of protection. If you grow plantains and bananas, it is best to do so in an area guarded from strong winds. Mulch is essential for growth of both plantains and bananas. It is best to surround the shoots with fallen leaves and organic matter, creating indigenous mulch to feed further growth.

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