Plantain chips are the most popular plantain products in Nigeria. Plantain chips are spherical or elongated shaped deep fried products of matured plantain fruits at the firm ripe stage. The colour is brownish-yellow, the texture is crispy and the taste is slightly salty. The specie known as Bini cultivar is however, preferable based on product quality and yield. Matured plantain fruit at the firm ripe stage is suitable and it is obtained one or two days prior to ripening depending on the sugar level.
Nigeria is one of the largest plantain producing countries in the world. In 2012, Nigeria has a plantain production of 2,800,00 tonnes, which ranked 6th in the world with a share of 7.5%. Its 456,000 hectare harvested area accounts for 8.4 percent in the world, ranking the second after Uganda.
In Nigeria, plantain is produced in these states: Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Bayelsa, Abia and Ebonyi.
Before deciding plant location for a plantain chips business, different factors should be analysed including the plot which should be of adequate size for both present needs and future development. The plant should also be close to raw materials and accessible by road or rail. Site should have access to electricity and water. Waste disposal should also be considered when planning the plant location. A well designed plant should comprise sufficient space for work to be conducted out under adequate hygienic conditions, an area for machinery, equipment and storage, separation of operations that might contaminate food, adequate natural or artificial lighting, ventilation, and protection against pests.
The basic unit operations involved in plantain chips production are:
1 . Sorting: This involves inspection of plantain fingers to identify and remove unsuitable ones i.e. spoilt, low pulp sugar or immature pulps.
2. Weighing: The sorted plantains are properly weighed to quantify input of raw plantain.
3. Trimming/Peeling: The plantain peels are removed manually using sharp knives to obtain the pulp.
4. Slicing: The pulp is sliced into 5mm cylindrical slices using a mechanized slicer.
5. Salting: The plantain slices are steeped in 2% table salt solution in plastic vat for about 5-10 minutes to potentiate the taste of the fried plantain, to serve as preservative against microbial growth and to maintain the colour by avoiding browning effect.
6. Draining: After salting, the plantain slices are drained of salt solution using plastic or metal (stainless steel) sieve.
7. Frying: The drained plantain slices are fried into chips in hot vegetable oil or a mixture of vegetable oils (impregnated with anti-oxidant) at 110-120° for 2-5 minutes to achieve adequate frying (without traces of undesirable browning) giving a brownish yellow colour chips.
8. Cooling: The fried chips are allowed to cool to the ambient temperature by natural air cooling method. Adequate cooling prevents moisture condensation on the packaging material.
9. Packaging: The chips are packaged in printed 100g cellophane packs or sachets and heat sealed to retain desirable crispiness of the chips throughout their shelf-life. The sachets are packaged in cartons of fifty.
To have an idea of the machines involved in plantain chips processing business, and the cost of these machine as at 2019, please check FIIRO.org.
Over the years, there has been a rise in the consumption of the snack which has enjoyed appreciable packaging and marketing in major cities across the country, most especially travelers along the major high ways. The demand for plantain in Nigeria is estimated at 148,900 Tonnes/Annum while the annual national supply is estimated at 34,575 Tonnes with a demand supply gap of about 114,325 Tonnes/Annum.
With a population of over 180-million people, Nigeria has a large market for plantain chips. People in urban and semi-urban areas are the main consumers. Children, teenagers, young and old people alike are the target market. Hotels, restaurants, canteens and army establishments are large customers requiring chips in significant quantities.