“El platano embrutece”. I recently heard this saying for the first time, but apparently it’s common amongst Dominicans. It means that eating plantains is associated with intellectual inferiority. The popular extension of this myth is that children who eat corn flakes are more intelligent than those who eat mangu.
Could this be true? What lies behind this saying? To be honest, I think I already knew the answer to the question when I first came across this belief, but I thought I’d look into it anyway.
According to my research, plantains are nutritionally beneficial, they have more than twenty times the amount of vitamin A, about three times the vitamin C, double the magnesium, and almost twice the potassium as a banana. Very low in fat and sodium, they are cholesterol-free and offer a good source of fibre. One-half cup cooked slices contains about 89 calories. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
In the opposite corner, is a packet of Corn Flakes. 100g of cornflakes contains 370 calories, 84g carbohydrates, 7g of protein, 0.8g fat and 2.5g of fibre. Also a reasonable enough listing. What it doesn’t mention outright is the sugar content, which is as much as four teaspoons of sugar per serving. More so if you add sugar to your cornflakes, which most people tend to do.
I looked up the nutritional information for the best known brand of corn flakes, but did not lose sight of the fact that for Dominicans, corn flakes (pronounced ‘conflé’) is the generic word for any breakfast cereal, many of which are junkier than standard corn flakes, with even more sugar and artificial colourings.
In both cases it also depends on how you eat the plantain or the cornflakes. Most children eat cornflakes with some sugar and some milk. Plantains for breakfast are usually eaten as mangú, which involves boiling the plantains and mashing them with some salt and oil. Accompanied by fried cheese or salami. A little heavy on the system, perhaps, but nutritious enough. It also depends on how monotonous your diet is. If you eat little else but plantains it is not as beneficial as a varied diet that includes plantains.
I realise too that I am making a huge assumption in that I am linking good nutrition to intelligence. I’m applying the information that says that children who eat a good breakfast do better at school, so maybe that’s it. What I can’t accept is that there should be a difference between children who eat corn flakes and children who eat mangú.
There is a socio-cultural element here and that’s probably where the myth originates. Mangú is a traditional Dominican breakfast, eaten in the campo and in poorer homes. Families who can afford corn flakes are also the sort of people who send their children to private schools. Having said that, I have still to meet a middle class or even an upper class Dominican who looks down on mangú.
That is one of the things I love about the country: despite sayings like ‘el platano embrutece’ Dominicans are still fiercely proud and appreciative of their traditional cuisine, and are not about to replace it completely with foreign substitutes.
Mangú (Mashed plantains) is one of the best known and most representative recipes of the Dominican cuisine. It could probably be called Dominicans’ official breakfast dish. A must-try for those sampling our cuisine. Learn how to make it with this simple step by step recipe.
- 4 unripe plantains
- 1½ teaspoons of salt
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 cup of water at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 large onions
- 1 tablespoon of fruit vinegar
- Peel the plantains and cut into 8 pieces.
- Remove the center where the seeds are located (optional)
- Boil the plantains adding until they are very tender, having added the salt to the water.
- Take the plantains out of the water and mash them with a fork until they are very smooth.
- Add olive oil and mix.
- Add the water and keep mashing and mixing until it is very smooth puree.