How Are Green Bananas Used in Caribbean Food?

A close-up of plated bananas on a table

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Both unripe green bananas and ripe yellow bananas are used a great deal in Caribbean cooking. Depending on which of the islands you're visiting, you'll probably hear the words "green banana" and "Caribbean fig" used interchangeably. They're called guineos on the Spanish islands. 

Green bananas are the same bananas you would eat as ripe fruit for breakfast or a snack, but they're often prepared as a vegetable in the Caribbean, mostly in savory dishes.

Green Bananas Vs.Yellow Bananas 

It goes against the grain for many of us to eat unripe fruit, but a banana is an exception to the usual rule, at least in the Caribbean islands. In some respects, a green banana is even healthier than a ripe banana because a banana's starches begin to break down into sugar as it matures. An unripe banana, therefore, causes blood sugar to rise more slowly, which is good for anyone with blood sugar issues. And eating one with all that intact starch—as opposed to sugar—makes you feel fuller for longer. All bananas are good sources of potassium and fiber. 

The downside is that without all that sugar, green bananas don't taste quite as good. 

Green Bananas in Caribbean Life 

It is purely out of a need to be resourceful that Caribbean folks began cooking with green bananas. Bananas aren't native to the Caribbean, but they do grow abundantly there, so they naturally became a staple of the Caribbean diet. Green bananas can also be used in place of plantains when plantains aren’t available. Even the leaves of the banana tree are used to wrap certain foods such as Puerto Rican pasteles and Barbadian Conkies.

What to Do With a Green Banana? 

Green bananas are used to make salads, just as you would make a potato salad. You can also make pies with them, such as a shepherd's pie. There's even a delicious pickled banana dish that's popular in the islands. All bananas, whether fresh or dried, can be easily made into a porridge because of their high starch content. When they're fresh and thinly sliced thinly, you can use green bananas to fry chips or tostones, or simply boil them and enjoy them with sautéed salt meat. They also make some tasty desserts. 

Perhaps the easiest way to test your taste for green bananas is to boil them, a common method of preparing them. Submerge the bananas, skins intact, in enough salted boiling water to cover them. Boil them for 20 minutes or so until you can easily pierce the skin with a fork. And that's it. Slice the peel open and serve the bananas as they do in Jamaica, along with a fish or pork main dish. 

Use the greenest bananas available, which may mean grabbing them as soon as they're placed in a produce bin in U.S. markets. By necessity, bananas must be shipped in their green, unripe state because they'll continue to mature and ripen as they're transported to grocers' shelves. If growers were to ship ripe yellow bananas, they'd most likely be spoiled by the time they arrived at their destinations.