Questions about use are easily answered. Not so the questions raised (and not answered here) by a botanical description: Plantain is classified as Musa x paradisiaca (as are most bananas), a perennial herb, the fruit of which is a berry. The berry is called both banana and plantain (and by similar names) in many parts of the world, but depending upon the locale, the meanings may be reversed.
Banana and plantain have been so thoroughly absorbed by Latin American countries that many people think they are native to the New World. Yet this is a Southeast Asian plant, which landed in South America in the early 16th century and was not commercially available in the United States until the late 19th century. Plantain has become a symbol of assimilation in Latin America, says the historian Maricel Presilla, who likens it to the immigrants who “surrendered to the realities of weather and geography and reached for substitutions. . . . Soon the substitutions, the foods of the land, and the brand new creations become comforting. This is the moment of creolization or aplatanamiento [“plantainization”], when the alien, like the . . . plantain, becomes native, a familiar sight and flavor in the all-inclusive pot of the New World” (from the introduction to Latin Ladles by Douglas Rodriguez).
© 2001 Elizabeth Schneider. All rights reserved.