Mangú (Mashed Plantains) is one of Dominicans’ favorite dishes, and yet we sometimes hear that “El platano embrutece”. 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 Mangú.
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 fiber. One-half cup of 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 fiber. 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 colorings.
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 realize 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.
What is Mangú?
Mangú (Mashed plantains) is one of the best-known and most representative dishes of Dominican cookery. It could probably be called Dominicans’ Official Breakfast Dish, a must-try for those sampling our cuisine. Learn how to make mangú with this simple step by step recipe.
- 4 unripe plantains
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 tsp olive oil or butter
- 1 tbsp onion powder (optional, see notes)
- 1 cup water at room temperature
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 large onions
- 1 tbsp fruit vinegar
Peel the plantains and cut lengthwise, then divide each half into two. Remove the center where the seeds are located (optional, this is just my preference for a smoother mangú).
Boil the plantains in enough water to cover them plus an inch until they are very tender, having added the salt to the water before the water breaks the boil.
Remove the plantains from the water and mash them with a fork until they are very smooth and there are few to no lumps. Mix in olive oil, onion powder and water at a cool temperature and keep mashing and mixing until it turns into a smooth puree.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet over low heat. Add onions and cook and stir until they become translucent. Pour in vinegar and season with salt to taste.
I vastly prefer olive oil in my mangú, but this is a matter of preference, so feel free to go with what you like most.
No, the traditional recipe does not contain onion powder, this is my touch, and trust me, this will amp the flavor in your mangú like you don't believe it. Feel free to leave it out if you wish.
The nutritional values are calculated using olive oil instead of butter, which is what I prefer.
A common question we get is how to get a soft mangú, my trick is to add a bit more water than it seems necessary at first, as it cools down, mangú will inevitably get harder, so start with a mushy mangú and by the time it gets to the table it will be soft and creamy. Also, you'll need to mash very well, there's nothing worse than a lumpy mangú.