Nothing plain about plantain

The hit song Despacito has become of the most downloaded songs in history and has helped catapult Puerto Rican culture, dance and music on to the world stage, but the recently devastated US island has also brought us many delicious recipes of an often forgotten and overlooked superfood — vudi.

For many Caribbean, African and Latin American households, vudi, or plantains, are a staple dietary superhero. Vudi looks similar to bananas and belong to the same family, but their use in cooking and cuisine are very different. Plantains are used more as a vegetable than a fruit, and are best eaten cooked, where as dessert bananas like the common Cavendish variety are mainly eaten raw when ripe. Plantains are also considered a super food, packed with coveted vitamins and minerals. Their limited use in our local cooking means many of us are overlooking this fruit powerhouse as a way to combat non-communicable disease by eating more of the medicine foods. They have more than twenty times the amount of vitamin A, about three times the vitamin C, double the magnesium, and almost twice the potassium as the common banana.

Better for cooking

Plantains are used in many Indian and Caribbean dishes as part of the main dish itself. In some cases, plantains are baked or fried and served as a side dish. Plantains are often considered to be the potatoes of the tropical islands. This is because of the rich starch content and low sugar that plantains possess, making it a rich source of carbohydrates. When they are unripe, they are usually bland in flavour. They do become slightly sweeter as they ripen and they remain rather firm, even when they are cooked. This is partly because of the low moisture content that plantains have as compared with bananas. This is the reason why plantains are first cooked before they are eaten. They cannot be eaten while they are raw, even if they are already ripe, because their high starch content and firm texture can make them rather unpalatable. Vudi vakasoso and vudi pudding are obvious exceptions as the sweetened coconut milk and grated fresh coconut are perfectly paired to the starchy vegetable. On the other side of the world, plantains are eaten in many different forms: ripe, fried to make a Puerto Rican snack called platanos maduros, or flattened and then fried to make crispy tostones. Platanos is Spanish for plantains. And not just green plantains, but the soft, ripe, black plantains. Or, in Spanish — platanos maduros. Now getting excited about wrinkly dark plantains might sound weird. If it was a banana, I wouldn’t eat it raw and I’d be thinking about banana bread. But as many Fijian women know, dark, soft and spotty vudi are perfect for desserts.

Powerhouse of medicine

Aside from tasting amazing, plantains are also a great source of many nutrients and vitamins. Plantains are a rich source of energy. One cup of raw plantain can carry up to 181 calories.

This not only makes it a fulfilling fruit, but also a hearty meal addition on the cheap. They are rich in magnesium, which plays a very important role in your energy, blood sugar levels, and bone strength. According to the US Department of Agriculture, plantains are high in vitamin A which is essential for your vision, dental health and your overall immune system. To no surprise, they also offer much more vitamin C than bananas; plantains carry up to 32.9 mg and bananas 10.3 mg. Vitamin C is effective at protecting your immune system and warding off infections and harmful free radicals. And with around 900 mg of potassium, one vudi can amount for nearly 20 per cent of your daily intake need.

It’s richness in potassium makes it heart friendly by preventing heart attack and hypertension through controlling heart rate and blood pressure in our body and cell. Also, vudi’s fibre content is great for reducing cholesterol levels which can help to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Unripe plantain is very low in sugar compared to ripe or over ripe plantain and this makes it a good choice for diabetes especially when added with other fibre and protein rich food such as local green vegetables.

And if all this goodness doesn’t convince you to include vudi in your weekly diet, some research suggests that men can derive huge benefit with increased libido, improved male fertility, thicker sperm and more volume. No wonder vudi is so intimately linked to improved sexual performance.

Eat a vudi today!

* Join Chef Seeto for lunch at the new Malamala Beach Club, just 25 minutes ferry ride from Port Denarau

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