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I don't really speak Spanish, but I do know a few words and phrases here and there, and enjoy furthering what little knowledge I have. So, today I saw, in a Swedish newspaper, a reference to plantains (we call them cooking bananas over here), as being called plátanos in Spanish.

This seemed wrong to me, as from what little experience I have, plátano is the banana (the sweet kind), and banana refers to the plantain. That's what I found when visiting Spain a few years ago, and that is what my girlfriend, who learned Spanish from Chileans, told me.

So, am I right in guessing that this is all a big jumble, and that there is no right or wrong, in the global sense?

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In Spain, the word "plátano" is used only to refer to "el plátano de Canarias", for any other origins the noun "banana" is used. In Hispanoamerica the use is different, as Envite explains in his answer. –  Nico May 7 at 11:52
    
en Cuba es muy dificil escuchar banana, se usa platano acompañado del tipo, por ejemplo platano fruta, platano macho, platano manzano, etc. en Colombia le dicen platano al que se usa para freir o cocinar, y al que se come como fruta le dicen banano o banana –  Emilio Gort May 7 at 17:32
    
@edivimo: Related anecdote: While traveling with my wife through the U.S. years ago, we stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Being from Costa Rica, we chatted up the waiter, who was a Mexican immigrant. Near the end of the meal, my wife, "suffering" from several weeks away from home, asked the waiter if he could convince the cook to prepare a plátano frito to satisfy a craving. He gave us the funniest look, then disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later, he emerged carrying a tray with a banana fried in oil. We all had a great laugh together after sorting out the confusion. –  ticolandia May 11 at 19:45
    
In Colombia, plátano is a plantain, the non-sweet kind, and banana the other. It's just different in different places I reckon. –  khaverim May 12 at 7:41
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3 Answers 3

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Usage of the words "plátano" and "banana" depends slightly on the zones.

We can think that the most used usage is as follows:

"Plátano" is the name for a fruit coming from Musa genre plants, that can be eaten raw. Known as a source of potassium, uses to be sweet.

"Banana" is the name for a fruit coming also from Musa genre plants, that must be fried in order to be edible.

"Banano" and "Cambur" are regional synonyms for "Plátano".

E.g. Canary Islands banana (raw edible) is exported as "Plátano de Canarias".

However, in some places the names are inverted! Which means Platano has to be fried and Banano can be eaten raw. cf. http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musa_%C3%97_paradisiaca and the comment from @Joze below.

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At least in Spain, plátanos and bananas are both raw edible, but plátanos are smaller but sweeter. Bananas are often considered as a cheaper alternative to plátanos. –  rafabayona May 8 at 9:54
    
@rafabayona That usage of 'bananas' in mainland spain comes from the name used in banana-exporting countries, and in order to separate them from Canary Islands 'plátanos'. But there is a different fruit, not usually seen in Spain, which is not raw edible. –  Envite May 8 at 10:24
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I think I know what you mean. That kind of plátanos are called «plátanos macho» –  rafabayona May 8 at 10:30
    
In my experience, the usage in Spain is exactly as @rafabayona says in his comments. –  Gorpik May 8 at 13:52
    
@Gorpik Please specify which part of Spain. In Canary Islands we mostly use 'Plátano' for the raw edible fruit, either local or not, and 'Banano' (note the masculine) for the non raw edible one. 'Banana' (feminine) is a pejorative for plátanos imported from South America, which compete with local ones. –  Envite May 9 at 5:20
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Agronomist here from Costa Rica. We call plátano to the fruit that you need to cook. The cooking is necessary because this fruit had starch, but when is mature some of that starch turns to sugar, so is still sweet, but starchy, so you still can eat it raw. We call banano the fruit you always eat raw, because all the starch is converted in sugar when matures. If you cook a banano in hot water or fried you make a caramel mess.

Ecuador, Costa Rica and Colombia are the 3 world main exporters of the sweet raw fruit, and in the three countries is called banano. Most of the production of plátano is for the local market and rarely is exported.

Also, the french called banano: banane dessert and to plátano: banane plantain, called only plantain in french speaking African countries (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banane_plantain). In portuguese, the sweet is banana, and the starchy is banana-pão or banana-da-terra (http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana).

So, the correct designation is banano the sweet, and plátano the starchy in the tropical hispanic countries. México, España, Chile and other non-tropical hispanic countries only use the word plátano for the banano because usually they don't know the starchy variety, that isn't exported.

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The expression "cambur" is used in Venezuela for the sweat banana which you can eat raw. "Plátano" is in Venezuela for frying and cooking. But in some other countries (México and some Central Américan countries) the expressión "Plátano macho" is for the one you cannot eat raw and simply the word "Plátano" is for the one whjch is sweat and you eat it raw. But in El Salvador they call the sweat banana "guineo" and plátano is the one for cooking or frying.

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I disagree with the part about the Central American countries, here banano is the raw-sweet fruit. You can verify that with google searches of "Honduras banano" or "Guatemala banano" and in the news and in exporter companies use the word banano and in a few caribeans countries use guineo. The weirdest is from the venezuelans with cambur. –  edivimo May 13 at 14:06
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