I Get Black-But-Hard Plantains When I Try To Ripen Them Fully.

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I Get Black-But-Hard Plantains When I Try To Ripen Them Fully.

by Ray Dickinson
(Dalton, GA)

Both unripe, but the one on the bottom has slowed down (still has green!) and is shriveling, while the yellow one on top is soft and on its way to perfection.

Both unripe, but the one on the bottom has slowed down (still has green!) and is shriveling, while the yellow one on top is soft and on its way to perfection.

Ray's Question:


I have read your article on ripening plantains, and that is how I do it, but sometimes the plantains, instead of becoming soft, harden up.

They still turn black, but not as completely, and they tend to shrivel some as well.

Any ideas what is causing this? I'm guessing it is because they are losing moisture, but why?

I ripen other plantains in the same spot and the same way. Some turn out into soft, black beauties, while others are hard and shriveled. Thanks for any help you can provide!

Ray Dickinson
Dalton, GA

Andrew's Answer:

Hi Ray.

The plantains on sale in northern grocery stores are mostly intended for use (in an unripe state) in various cooked Latin American dishes.

There are some traditional plantain recipes that call for black plantains, but I don't think this is the imaged use for the imported plantains that make it to the US.

The significance of this is that retailers want to have very green plantains for sale in their store. You'll probably notice that plantains that start to ripen are often quickly thrown out or put in the discount bin, while bananas that turn all yellow are usually still allowed to be on sale.

I once asked a guy that grows bananas and plantains in Florida why plantains sometimes don't ripen correctly. He said that all his plantains ripen just fine, because he allows them to ripen on the plant to a certain level before picking them.

But the drive to have them for sale in northern supermarkets in a very green and upripe state means that they need to get picked even farther back from their ripe state than bananas.

If you picked a watermelon off its vine before it finished ripening, you wouldn't expect it to taste good. And even though plantains and bananas continue to ripen after they're picked, there are changes to their starch and mineral content that are going on all the way up to the point of its actual picking; pick them too soon, and you interrupt that process.

The fact is that no fruit is as ideal when picked in an unripe state, but the more unripe it is, the less, "finished,' it is, and the less likely it is to reach an ideal state of ripeness and taste post picking.

When I visit the tropics, I find my plantains pretty much always ripen properly, but they're usually picked a few days before I buy them.

In the US, a significant amount don't ripen properly, and I think a significant part of the blame can be placed on early picking.

There are other factors that could be at play. There are many varieties of plantains, and some ripen into a tastier state than others.

It's also worth noting that bananas sometimes fail to ripen properly as well, but this is far more rare.

Consumers in Northern climates expect bananas to ripen properly, and if they don't with any frequency, they'll stop buying them.

But other than a few raw foodists or other foodies, consumers don't expect their plantains to ripen.

If a grower sells plantains that don't ripen, there will be little economic consequence, and so the current trend will likely continue until that changes.

Following Up:

Ask Andrew your own question here.

Learn more about how to ripen fruit, and how to save lots of money when buying produce in this article.

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