The plantain banana is generally used for cooking, in contrast to the soft, sweet banana (which is sometimes called the dessert banana).
The population of North America was first introduced to the banana plantain, and in the United States and Europe "banana" generally refers to that variety. The word "banana" is often used (some would say incorrectly, although there is no formal botanical distinction between bananas and plantains) to describe other plantain varieties, and names may reflect local uses or characteristics of varieties: cooking plantain, banana plantain, beer banana, bocadillo plantain (the little one), etc. All members of the genus Musa are indigenous to the tropical region of Southeast Asia, including the Malay Archipelago and northern Australia.
Plantains tend to be firmer and lower in sugar content than dessert bananas. Bananas are most often eaten raw, while plantains usually require cooking or other processing, and are used either when green or under-ripe (and therefore starchy) or overripe (and therefore sweet). Plantains are a staple food in the tropical regions of the world, treated in much the same way as potatoes and with a similar neutral flavour and texture when the unripe fruit is cooked by steaming, boiling or frying. Regions with Plantain crops include the Southern United States, the Caribbean, Central America, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Southern Brazil, the Canary Islands, Madeira, Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, Okinawa, and Taiwan. Farmers grow plantains as far north as Northern California and as far south as KwaZulu-Natal.
Plantains are in the genus Musa, and are mostly sterile triploid hybrids between the species Musa acuminata (A genome), and Musa balbisiana (B genome). Musa species are likely native to India and Southern Asia. It is assumed that the Portuguese Franciscan friars were responsible for the introduction of plantains from Africa to the Caribbean islands and other parts of the Americas.