Telling a ripe plantain is very easy. All you need to do is pay attention to a color change.

Plantains are one of the many fruits and herbs that indicate their level of doneness by a change in their skin color.

In the next few sections, you’ll learn the different colors that a mature and ripening plantain adopts, and the level of doneness that each one of them indicates. Let’s dive into it.


When is a plantain ripe?

A plantain is ripe when it turns from bright green to yellow. It takes about 10 days for this color change to happen. At this stage, most of the starch content in the plantain must have degraded into simple sugar and the taste is now reminiscent of dessert banana, opposite from the vegetal and funky notes produced by green plantains.


How to tell when a plantain is ripe?

There are three different stages that mature plantains undergo during the ripening process. First is the green stage which signifies an unripe fruit, and surprisingly, this stage is when farmers love to pick their fruits from the trees in order to sell them, especially for trading internationally, although locally, green plantains are often allowed to ripen a bit more on the trees, turning bright yellow with traces of green at the pointy ends, before they are harvested and distributed to the markets.

The green stage of plantains (verde) is characterized by fruits having green skins that are notoriously difficult to peel, cream to white pulps that are firm, super starchy and astringent in taste, and aromatics that is not easily detectable – a tropical note that is mostly neutral to the sense of smell. The plantain at this stage is somewhat similar to starchy vegetables such as potatoes or cassava.

Next is the yellow stage (pinton) of plantains characterized by fruits bearing skins that are completely bright yellow. The pulp of the fruits give way to pressure far more easily than in the green stage due to changes in the chemical structure of starch grains. This change in chemical structure, which is nothing but the conversion of starch into simple sugars such as sucrose, glucose and fructose, makes the plantain drop its characteristic astringency to become much sweeter, tastier, tenderer, and flavorful. The plantain typically exude light aromatics resembling that of bananas and even begin to taste like them, although never truly like them since they bear a distinct hint of savoriness. Conversion of plantains from a bright green to a light yellow coloration typically happens in as little as 10 days, both on trees and on the counter.

The last stage of ripening in plantains is the black stage (maduro) characterized by fruits having black leathery skins that smell so much like that of dessert bananas, and pulp-texture that is mushy and messy. The conversion from starch to simple sugars must have been completed at this stage and as a result, the fruits are turned extremely sweet. The rind becomes much softer and easier to peel off, and the pulp which bears a deep yellow trace now tastes so much like a dessert banana. The plantain is also easier to cook, although not necessarily easier to peel than in the earlier stages. Conversion of plantains from a bright yellow to black coloration typically happens within a week under optimum conditions i.e. the dark corners of a room or that of a fruit store.

One notable intermediary stage of a ripening plantain is that in which the plantain converts from bright yellow to a dull yellow coloration, sometimes having dark visible patches spattered all over the pointy ends.

The plantain at this point is the ripest any home cook or professional chef would enjoy working with. That’s because, the rinds are softer and easier to peel – not tucking into the fruit’s immediate flesh as is normally the case with green and overripe plantains, the flavors are well balanced and blended – not too bland and not too sweet, and most importantly, the texture is heaven, a soft-firm feel that isn’t the gooey mess we’re used to seeing in black plantains.


How to tell when plantains are bad?

The transition from good to bad plantains begins the very moment they turn black. So use them fast and wisely. Rotten plantains are very soft and slushy, have dark spots spattered all over their skins, and most importantly, give off a distinct ooze that is unpleasant to the nose.

Bad plantains can also grow molds all over their skin and even harbor insect larvae. Usually, they’ll have cuts somewhere on the surface of their skin which stretches deep into the pulp and attract insects to lay eggs.

You can easily observe the white larvae inside and around the rotten plantain. When your plantains at the corridor fit into this category, simply discard them in the trash can outside. Or, do so in a way that doesn’t attract a thousand and one fruit flies, and also disturb the neighbors.

Green plantains can also go bad too, so rot isn’t specific to a certain stage of plantain ripeness. The way you can tell when a green plantain is bad is by noticing whether the plantain develop a brittle skin and has an extended dark blemishes, hard to the touch, on it’s peels. These are often reliable indicators of a bad or rotting plantain. Peeling the skin off should reveal the dark rotten portion of the fruit which isn’t edible.


Can you eat green plantains?

Green plantains are perfectly edible without any complications. However, because they make up a different chemical composition which give them a distinct taste and texture from ripened plantains, they are often cooked differently.

Green plantains are super starchy which makes them bear a vegetal and bland taste. They are also firm to the touch and contain very little amount of sugar. These qualities, however, makes them perfect for home cooking in the following ways:


Boiling

This method is mostly popular in Africa. In this method, green plantains are cooked in boiling water or in vapor for 20 to 50 minutes, or until they soften to the point where they are edible and are consumed with sauces of choice or other accompanying dishes. The populations of western Cameroon revere this dish so much that they serve them during traditional ceremonies like weddings or funerals, but usually with an additional twist – cooking the peeled plantains in a stock mixture made up of palm oil, cow meat, traditional spices and salt. Green plantains are also made into porridge and served as a one course meal. Another variation of the meal pounds the boiled plantain into a homogenous mass usually fortified with cooked cassava in order to increase its elasticity. The, the food is served with sauce packed with fish or meat protein.


Roasting

Unripe plantains are also consumed in their roasted form, when the pulps are roasted on grills or directly on heated charcoals. It typically takes around 15 minutes to prepare 2 to 4 fingers of plantains which are then served with roasted peanut, roasted fish or meat kebab. This meal is very popular in Africa where it is typically sold on the roadside by women.


Frying

Unripe plantain pulp can also be cut into thin slices and fried in vegetable oil or palm oil for 4 to 5 minutes. This food can be served with egg sauce, chicken soup, roasted fish or meat kebab.


Pastry

Unripe plantains can also be made into flour by slicing the pulp into pieces and air drying for a few days to crisp them up. Then, they are grounded fine to form a uniform flour. The flour can be prepared into and elastic pastry and served with sauce of choice. It can also be used to make cakes, bread and fritters.

There are so many ways that plantains can be used for cooking, it just depends on the creativity and taste of the cook in question. Plantains can be used to thicken soups, make dumplings, make chips and even be twice fried into tostones.


Can you eat black plantains?

Overripe plantains — the brown to black squashy ones are perfectly fine to eat too. They’re ripe plantains after all, only that they’ve take texture and flavor to a whole new level. Their consistency is very difficult to work with (for methods like frying or boiling) because they are gooey, and their sweetness might not be the perfect combo for some savory recipes.

Just like the unripe plantains, there are a handful of ways in which overripe plantains can be enjoyed at home. Some of them include:

  • Baking or roasting: I.e this Baked plantain frittata with eggs.
  • Grilling:
  • Sautéing
  • Boiling
  • Frying
  • Turned into fritters

How to ripen green plantains

Green plantains can be ripened quickly in a brown paper bag. Simply take up the bag and fit the unripe plantains alongside a ripe banana or two ripe apple fruits and seal the opening loosely. Store in a dark corner and away from the sunlight. The ethylene gas emitted by the ripe fruits will concentrate around the green plantains and make them ripen muck quickly, usually in as little as 5 days.

If you like, you can let the plantains ripen on their own which should take anywhere from 10 to 15 days, depending on the ripeness that you want.

Check out other ways you can ripen plantains: How to ripen plantains


How to keep plantains green

To keep plantains green, store them in the refrigerator (for no longer than a week though), but bear in mind that part of the flavor would be lost when you eventually decide to ripen them on the counter.

You can peel and dice plantains, cut them into oval shapes, grind them into puree, or cut in halves or leave them as they are and load them into a ziplock plastic bag and pop the mass inside a freezer for as long as you wish, we’re hoping you’ll put them to use before the end of two months! That’s when they’ll taste and feel the freshest.

The way you cut your unripe plantains would depend on the recipes you intend making with them when the time comes. And speaking of that, never defrost, rather use them as they are or run them under hot water and then proceed to fry or make whatever you’re planning on using them for.


How to store plantains

Under the right conditions, plantains can be stored for up to one year. To store plantains this long, you’ll have to freeze them. If you only need the plantains in less than a week’s time, feel free to pop them inside the refrigerator until it’s time. The dry chilliness in the refrigerator will inhibit any ripening process so the plantains remain yellow and retain their level of sweetness.

For long term storage, freeze them up. Wrap them tightly in a plastic bag and freeze for upto 2 months, or may be even longer than that. Experiment and see for yourself. Sacrificing one or two plantains shouldn’t be that hard. You can cut or prepare the plantains as you wish before putting them inside a plastic wrap and loading them inside the freezer.