The popular Nigerian Jollof rice is typically not complete without the dodo accompaniment. Dodo is fried plantain and it is used to garnish and add gravitas to the ‘Jollof’ phenomenon.
Plantains are edible food crops from a family of plant species called the Musaceae, which is also the botanical family of bananas. There are about sixty species of plantains and bananas, with about fifty of them native to Asia, Australia and Africa.
Bananas are subspecies of plantains, with the difference lying in their leaf arrangement and fruit development. Plantains are generally bigger than bananas, having longer seeds from the pseudo-stem called fingers or hands.
A collection of these fingers on the branch of a plantain tree is called a bunch. The same applies to bananas.
Plantains are a rich source of fibre, vitamins A, B6 and C. They also contain lots of important minerals like magnesium, potassium, selenium and phosphorus. Across the world, they are a staple food, but the jury is out on whether or not plantains are protein-rich.
Truth be told, plantains are starchy and starch means carbohydrates. According to research from the United States National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), plantains contain approximately 32.89 grams of carbohydrates and a minuscule 1.3 grams of protein.
But there is uplifting news! The carbohydrates found in plantains are the healthy kind, called dextrose, a monosaccharide. Also, plantains contain dietary magnesium, which acts as a nervous relaxant. This helps to relax the muscles and nerves of the body.
In most parts of Nigeria, plantains are consumed with protein-rich foods, and they are used to make Africana and traditional dishes. Dodo, ukohdo (unripe plantain porridge), kpekere (dried plantain), plantain chips, akedo (ripened plantain with vegetables) are eaten with soybeans, beans, eggs, meat, fish and other protein meal items.
Plantains contain dietary fibre which is important for cleansing the digestive system and easing bowel movements. They are also a rich source of potassium, which helps normalize blood pressure levels. According to a journal published by the United States National Institute of Health (NIH), studies show that eating plantains increases the potassium and copper in the bloodstream, which is crucial in maintaining the proper functioning of the thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland, located at the front of the neck, secretes thyroid hormones into the circulatory system that regulates the body’s metabolic biochemistry; including the heart, muscle and digestive functions. It constantly releases a steady supply of calcitonin and thyroxine to the brain and neural systems. Plantains are a source of retinol, which is responsible for good eyesight.
Besides, plantains are prebiotics enriched with vitamins. Prebiotics are biochemical compounds that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the body. Whenever you eat plantains, you aid good microbes to flourish in your stomach, and G.I.T. (gastrointestinal tract).
Plantains also improve skin quality, enabling the epidermal and dermal cells to maintain their elasticity and their defences. The beauty of prebiotics is their ability to rapidly aid the multiplication of beneficial microorganisms. If germs stick to your skin, prebiotics stimulate microbes which raise the pH level of the dermis and sebaceous glands to immediately inhibit them.
Importantly, plantains are used in making fruit salads, pies, and even traditional ‘swallows’.
So, while plantains are not proteins, they, however, pack a nutritious punch.
Reginald Onabu, Researcher and Public Relations Officer, Writes from Lagos.