Plantains and “Hyperpalatability”


A colleague of mine mentioned plaintains being an important food source in the Caribbean.  So I decided to try eating them for a while.  Unfortunately, that would mean ingesting some sugar:  about 28 grams of sugar per 200g of serving.  These are copious amounts of sugar for me.  In 2011, my sugar intake was 15-20g per day, all from vegetables and occasional berries.  No added sugar whatsoever.  Nonetheless, I’m pretty lean now and I never tasted plantains before.   So chalk one up for biohacking.

I first tried those plantains that hadn’t ripened yet.  These greenish plantains are sold separate from the yellow ones.

Green or not-yet-ripe plantains

I tried boiling them first.  They tasted like starchy potatoes or taro and I sensed no sweetness at all.   Then I baked them in my electric oven at 350F on each side, using coconut oil for lubrication.  Again, no sweetness and I actually had to sprinkle salt to make them appetizing.  Not impressed:  what’s the point, I wondered?  Why not eat yuca and avoid the sugar, which I couldn’t detect anyway.  Why pay for fructose when you can’t taste it and the stuff isn’t half as palatable as yuca or batata or yams?

Then I bought some yellow plantains.  I left them on my window sill to make them go ripe.  These were soon gaining dark streaks and seemed to be spoiling quickly, so I decided to bake them.

This time, I used Kerrygold butter, which is the only form of dairy I consume at the moment.  I was very surprised to find that they’re available at ShopRite.

Recently, I’ve been putting a tablespoon of Kerrygold butter in my coffee and the result has been nothing short of spectacular:  healthier than the ultra-pasteurized heavy cream and guar-gum filled coconut milk.  Stronger, too.  Now I know why the Sherpas of Nepal drink tea made from yak butter.

Kerrygold butter melting in my coffee.

Using a baking pan, I put the sliced plantains and placed small chunks of Kerrygold butter at strategic locations:  375F on one side for 20 minutes and then flip and rotate for 25-30 minutes.  Except I overdid it and some of the twice-baked plaintains became charred.

I tried again the next day and succeeded in turning them bright golden.  Well, sort of.  Maybe a little undone this time but the problem seems to be the uneven heating inside my oven.

These plantains tasted completely different.  They were incredibly sweet and I could tell that the sugar had caramelized.  Now I know why they are prized in the Caribbean:  they taste like bananas but are less overtly sweet than the really ripe banana.  What you taste is the sugar that oozed out during the 50-minute baking process.   Those who’ve tasted fried parsnips know how different the parsnips taste when fried (vs. raw or boiled).   Try mixing sugar with butter in a frying pan and taste the sugar as it turns brown when heated at 320F or above.

Perhaps the sweetness should be balanced by some sour taste.  So I mix some frozen cranberries, which go well with anything overwhelmingly sweet.

Wow, what results is a whole-food dessert that makes portion control next to impossible!  For the next two weeks, I could not stop baking and eating them like hotcakes.  I would bake 4 large plantains and finish them in one sitting.  I don’t know any other food source whose portions I cannot control like this.  Never did I think that a “whole food” could be as “hyperpalatable” as manufactured products like sodas and candies.

Regrettably, I had to eliminate them from my diet.  Although there is no added sugar, there is simply too much “endogenous” sugar upon caramelization.  And I don’t have a good track record of pushing away from the table when it comes to sugar.  I’m glad I got around to tasting them, however.  There is no “hype” when it comes to plantains; they’re simply too tasty and too palatable.  Hyperpalatable.

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