The plantain is a part of the banana family (Musaceae) and is thought to have originated from Southeast Asia. This fruit thrives in tropical regions and is commonly eaten in the Caribbean and Latin American cuisine.
Green plantains are starchy and bland while the fully ripened fruit is aromatic and tastes like a regular banana, but less sweet. If you can't find plantains for sale at your local store or you don't enjoy their taste, then you're going to need replacement. We've compiled a list of some excellent plantain substitutes that have similar flavor and texture.
What can I use in place of plantains?
To replace plantains in savory dishes your best options are to use unripe bananas, yuca roots, potatoes, yams, breadfruits, jackfruits, or sweet potatoes. Although they all have their own unique characteristics, they are a close comparison. For sweet food, the best replacement for plantains is unripe green bananas.
1. Unripe banana
Most of us have made the mistake at least once in our lives of trying to eat a green banana. They’re bitter, starchy, and void of sweetness, making them ideal replacements. One of the most common uses for plantains is making tostones (patacones); they are sliced and fried, before smashing and then frying a second time until crispy. Choose very green, unripe bananas as a replacement in tostones or for making crispy chips.
Other ways to use green bananas are to grind them into a powder and use it as a useful replacement for plantain flour. They can also be cooked and blended into a delicious dough for making tortillas. Plantain bread recipes will also work well with the use of bananas.
When cooking them, keep in mind that their consistency is softer so give them less cooking time. Ripe bananas should never be used as a substitute for plantains.
2. Yuca root
Yuca root is a part of the cassava plant and roughly the same shape and size as a sweet potato. The skin is rough and comparable to bark so it must be peeled before using. A yuca root has white or creamy colored starchy flesh and a texture that is like a plantain once cooked. You will find its sweet, nutty taste and slightly grainy texture is a little different than a plantain’s, but it is mild in taste and will fit into most savory dishes well. Baked fries or chips are both good options and they make a healthy snack.
Most of us are familiar with potatoes in cooking, but did you know there are almost 4000 varieties of this vegetable. Most of them can be grouped into varieties like waxy, floury, or mealy. Some types of potato work better than others as a plantain alternative. We suggest avoiding waxy potatoes as they are lower in starch; instead, choose floury potatoes that can have up to 22% starch content.
The biggest difference you'll notice when using potatoes is that they don't carry the same sweetness that plantains do. Check out our guide on types of potatoes to get more information on how they differ.
Yams are a starchy, potato-like vegetable that are nutritious and delicious. Unlike the potato, yams are slightly sweet with a starchier consistency so they make a good plantain alternative. Yams are a versatile ingredient in the kitchen and are also nutritious thanks to their high levels of fiber, Vitamin C, and potassium.
Breadfruits are another popular fruit from the tropics and can easily be identified with their prickly oval appearance. Not surprisingly, they taste like bread once cooked; they are mostly treated as a vegetable in the kitchen and are excellent sauteed, mashed, or added to curries.
The riper the breadfruit, the sweeter they become as the starch converts to sugar. We suggest avoiding them when they are ripe as the taste will be out of place in recipes that call for plantains.
Jackfruit is a part of the breadfruit family and has gained popularity in western cooking recently thanks to the popularity of plant-based diets. Once cooked, the flesh is similar in texture to meat and makes an excellent vegan pulled pork sandwich. With the plantain, its flavor is quite bland and it will work well in slow-cooked curries and baked dishes that feature plantains.
If you want to learn the difference between a jackfruit and durian then check out our comparison guide here.
7. Sweet potato
The final option on our list is a sweet potato which is another starchy vegetable that is mild in flavor with a subtle hint of sweetness. Baking, roasting, or boiling it will result in a soft flesh that is slightly stringy, although this will depend on the variety. Like plantains, you can fry or roast them as chips at a high temperature to create crisp flavorful snacks.
Fast Facts about plantains
- Although plantains are classified as a fruit they are used as a vegetable in cooking.
- Plantains have less sugar than bananas and are better suited to savory dishes. To get the full comparison of plantains and bananas be sure to check out our handy guide.
- The fruit is a popular staple in African, Latin, and Caribbean cuisine.
- Plantains are sold green, but they can be left to turn black for a sweeter taste.
Although plantains look a lot like bananas, they are mostly used as a savory ingredient rather than an easily peeled snack. If you can't find a bunch near where you live then your best replacement options are green bananas, yuca root, potato, yam, breadfruit, jackfruit, or sweet potato. They all have their unique flavor, but they won't taste out of place in almost any recipe. Green bananas will be your best option for matching flavor, texture, and visual appearance.
Have you cooked with plantains before? What is your favorite use for them in cooking? Please let us know in the comments below.