Your local grocery store often stocks bananas and plantains that are someplace on a wide range of ripeness. From fruit that will be overly ripe within a day or two to completely green fruit, whatever your needs are, chances are you will find it. Buy green bananas, however, to get a variety of uses out of a single bunch of bananas or plantains. With a kitchen hack or two, it is possible to quickly bring the fruit to its peak state. Whether you choose to store the bananas in a way that allows them to ripen within a few days or if you ripen plantains in the microwave, plan on making that recipe calling for a ripe banana or a plantain this week – or even today.
Plantain Vs. Banana
Understanding the difference between plantains and bananas is key to knowing when they are ripe. Plantains are a member of the banana family, but a larger and longer version of the banana fruit most people are familiar with. The main difference is that plantains have less natural sugar and significantly higher starch content than bananas. This means that plantains are usually cooked before they are eaten, while bananas are most often eaten raw.
When bananas are not ripe, their peels appear green. Ripe bananas are yellow, and the fruit often displays black or brown spots when it is becoming increasingly ripe or overripe. Plantains, however, will appear green when they are ripe due to their high starch content. If a plantain looks yellow or black, it is overripe.
Ripen Plantains in the Microwave
The fastest and easiest way to quickly soften a plantain to a point that it can be consumed is to place it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Use a sharp fork or a knife to slightly puncture the peel. Next, simply microwave on high heat for 30 seconds, squeezing the plantain at the end of that time to test its firmness. If it is still too firm, microwave for another 30 seconds. This method works equally well for bananas.
Alternative Method of Ripening Bananas
If you're using ripe bananas in a baked good and you have a day or two to spare, place the unripened bananas in a brown paper bag and fold down the top of the bag a couple of times so it will not reopen. Leave the bag in the warmest part of the house for the best and quickest natural results. Add an additional ripe banana or other ripe fruit such as an apple to the bag of under-ripe bananas to ripen them within a day or two. This increases the amount of ethylene gas that is released by the fruit in the paper bag which causes them to ripen faster than if the fruit were sitting out on an open counter top. This method works equally well with plantains.
Do not confuse ripening methods with ways of keeping bananas or plantains from ripening too fast. The release of ethylene gases largely comes from the base of the stems where the banana bunch is connected. You can wrap this part of a banana bunch in plastic cling wrap to trap the gases from being released, thereby slowing down the ripening process.
Molly is a freelance journalist and social media consultant. In addition to Leaf.tv, Molly has written for Teen Vogue and Paste magazine. She is the former assistant editor of the Design and Style section of Paste magazine. View her work at www.mmollyharris.com.