What are Green Bananas?

East African Highland Banana Photo Courtesy or Nelly-Talking to Nelly

Green bananas are not dessert bananas. They are a starchy variety of banana specifically cultivated for cooking and eating while still green. If you keep them for a long time, they will of course ripen but will never taste as sweet as the ones grown for dessert, because they are more starchy and their pulp is rather insipid.

Green bananas are not plantain either. Plantains are much bigger, with a thicker skin and a sort of angular shape. Plantains are usually fried in oil when almost ripe and taste sweeter.

Green bananas are traditionally steam-coooked and mashed or pounded and served with groundnut sauce or meat or vegetables.  They can also be boiled with or without skin or cooked in a sauce on their own or with other ingredients. They are a staple food in Uganda and Rwanda, but are also eaten in Kenya, Tanzania (in East Africa)

East African Highland Banana (MusaAAA-EA)

Green Banana Photo Courtesy of Nelly -Talking to Nelly

The green bananas in East Africa are called East African Highland Bananas. They are also referred to as  green bananas, or cooking bananas because they are very starchy. They are much smaller than plantains  but are not dessert bananas.

They are eaten cooked but are also edible when ripe although they are not as sweet as the dessert bananas in Africa, which tend to be extremely sweet.

They are locally known as matooke or matoke in Uganda where they are are an important staple. They are also a staple in Rwanda, and are also eaten in Kenya and Tanzania. (In East Africa)

A Ugandan Traditional Meal (East Africa)

Below is a photo of a rich Ugandan traditional meal of Ugali (cooked white cornmeal) with Chapati (flatbread or roti), Matoke (mashed green bananas), sugar beans, and goat stew, steamed in and served in a bowl wrapped around green banana leaves. The green bananas turn pleasantly yellow-orange when cooked.

Photo Courtesy of Welli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Culinary Use of Green Bananas 

  1. In Uganda and Rwanda the green cooking bananas are steam cooked, mashed and served with groundnut sauce, beans, fish, beef, mushrooms or chicken stew. Steamed mashed green bananas is their staple food called matooke.
  2. In Bukoba, Tanzania, matoke (or matooke) is cooked with meat or smoked catfish, and beans or groundnuts and eaten as a meal.
  3. Green bananas can also be cooked in a thick coconut sauce or curry and served as a side.
  4. Green bananas are also boiled, or cooked on their own or together with other ingredients like meat.

How to Prepare Green bananas

Green banana skin produces a sticky sap that oozes out when cut, so to peel them you have to protect your hands by either oiling them liberally with oil or wearing gloves. The sap turns black when exposed to air and can stain your hands or clothes.

Green  bananas are creamy white in colour when raw but once cooked they turn into a pleasant yellow-orange colour.

Green bananas can be boiled and mashed, sliced and cooked or cooked in a sauce on their own or with other ingredients like meat. They can also be boiled skin-on. The skin usually turns black when boiled.

They take about 10-15 minutes to cook, on their own. Steam cooking a huge load of bananas takes a longer time.

Botanical Notes

The scientific names of most cultivated bananas are Musa acuminata, Musa balbisiana, and Musa × paradisiaca for the hybrid Musa acuminata × M. balbisiana, depending on their genomic constitution. The old scientific name Musa sapientum is no longer used. (wiki)

Most cultivated bananas are actually hybrids between two wild species, Musa acuminata and M. balbisiana. The wild species have seeds but the hybrid cultivated bananas are almost always seedless (parthenocarpic) and sterile, so they have to be propagated vegetatively. (wiki)

All modern plantain cultivars are triploid (have 3 sets of chromosomes). Many are hybrids between two wild species, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana and the currently accepted scientific name for all such crosses is Musa × paradisiaca

Cultivars derived from Musa acuminata are more likely to be used as dessert (eating) bananas, while those derived from Musa balbisiana and hybrids of the two (Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana.) are usually plantains or cooking bananas.

Using Simmonds and Shepherds’ (1955) genome-based nomenclature system, cultivars which are cooked often belong to the AAB Group, although some (e.g. the East African Highland bananas) belong to the AAA Group, and others (e.g. Saba bananas) belong to the ABB Group.

Fe’i bananas are scientifically called Musa × troglodytarum and are informally referred to as “mountain plantains.” However, they do not belong to either of the two species that all modern cultivated banana cultivars descended from and their parentage is unknown (Wiki)

  1. The hidden side of banana diversity
  2. The Beer Bananas of East Africa.


Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

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