There over 1,000 types of bananas in the world, many of them differing slightly in appearance, size, taste and use. They are often grouped into two categories: those that people can immediately eat, sometimes called dessert bananas, and those that need to be cooked prior to eating and are higher in starch, called plantains. Again, the number and types that fall into these two groups are striking. There are a few types that are easily distinguishable in a basic grocery store.
Shoppers may notice that there are many different sizes and shapes in the dessert bananas category. Red bananas, with a bright red peel that turns to brown, are becoming increasingly popular. They may be found in small or large sizes, and a deeper shade and a few brown spots usually indicate when these are quite ripe.
Another of the popular types is the baby banana. These are frequently sold in small bunches of eight to ten and may be more expensive than the average fruit banana, which most people can easily identify in the grocery store. The fruit banana is usually about 6 to 12 inches (15.24 to 30.48 cm), starts as a green color, and begins to turn yellow with brown spots as it ripens. Both baby and fruit bananas are ripe when there is no longer any green on the peel.
Even though most people call these "eating bananas," cooks certainly can prepare them in many different ways. They typically are used in dessert-type foods like banana cakes, breads, or muffins. When they are cooked, especially in recipes where the chef might be frying them at higher temperatures, a slightly green banana can be used, since it's best if a bit of the firmness remains. On the other hand, cooks who are making muffins, cake, or breads will find that a riper banana tends to be the best choice. In fact, those that are almost all brown on the peel are perfect for use in most baked recipes.
Plantains are not used as often in the US, but they make up an important staple and starch source in many other countries. These do need to be cooked, and depending upon the type and region in which they are grown, they may have only a slightly sweet, to a very sweet flavor. They’re often used in the same way that in the US might use potatoes: fried, added to stews or soups, or baked. People who see them in the grocery store may note that most plantains are much larger and heavier than the typical dessert banana.
Large plantains can be over 1 foot (30.48 cm) long, and they are usually thicker than their dessert cousins. Peel colors can vary from yellow, to green, to reddish brown, and they can be used whether they are fully green or fully brown. Usually, riper plantains are sweeter. Cooks can often find a number of ethnic cuisine recipes that make use of plantains, and these types of bananas can be fun to try. People should not try to eat them uncooked, as they can cause indigestion.