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Plantain is the common name for two very different plants.
The term plantain can refer to plants of the genus Plantago. Its leaves can be eaten as a potherb or in salads. To many of us it is nothing more than a common lawn weed like the dandelion or buttercup.
More commonly, plantains are the hard, starchy cooking bananas of the genus Musa. They do not have the sweetness of either the familiar dessert fruit or other cooking bananas. 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. They are grown as far north as Florida, the Canary Islands, Egypt, and southern Japan, and as far south as Natal and southern Brazil. It is unknown whether plantains were grown in America before the discovery of the New World.

Plantains are inedible when raw, but 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.

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