I remember asking my family as a child if plantain was just a big green banana, I was met with jeers of laughter because everyone found it amusing that I would ask such a question. It is easy to tell the difference between the two in a country like Ghana where plantains and bananas can be found in every household. Kelewele itself is a national treasure and some have called for it to be on the country’s coat of arms. It can be found at a junction in many neighbourhoods being fried and sold.
Anyway, growing up I have still asked myself how these two aren’t related, although they taste different, they taste and look somewhat similar.
The word “banana” is used to refer to a variety of big, herbaceous plants in the genus Musa that bear edible fruits. When mature, perennial crops like bananas and plantains resemble trees. These two crops belong to the same genus Musa, this genus produces the edible fruit we eat. Musa acuminata are the sweet type of bananas that we occasionally consume, and Musa Balbisiana are the plantains, both are hybrids formed from two species crossed together.
Some people believe that ‘Musa’ came from the Southeast of Asia but as to how they got into Africa, there is uncertainty. Musa is grown worldwide mainly in Asia, Africa, and the Central America.
In the Sub-Saharan region, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Cameroon are large producers of the crop.
The plants are able to produce fruit all year rounds with little intervention needed usually.
Besides coming from the same family, bananas and plantains share other similarities in terms of nutrition; they are both good sources if vitamin C, potassium and other minerals. Plantains and bananas provide certain health benefits as they have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Potassium is a mineral that humans need as it may help lower blood pressure and reduce heart risk.
In the kitchen, depending on which country you are in, banana and plantain could be prepared differently. A plantain can be referred to as a ‘cooking banana’ while the sweet banana is called a ‘dessert banana’.
All this is to say that the banana and plantain that we eat are all ‘bananas’ so a plantain technically is a banana.