The pineapple, while it may be one of the weirdest looking and often painful feeling fruits, is one of America’s favorite tropical fruits. While you can buy pineapple in chunks, tidbits, crushed, or rings in the canned food aisle, pineapple, like all fruits, is best fresh. A lot of people are intimidated by a whole pineapple – how do I know when it’s ripe? How do I cut it? What can I do with it? Is it good for me? Let’s discuss:
Pineapples are pretty cool. They come from the Bromeliaceae family, which, really, ok you don’t care, but it’s the only edible plant in its family. What’s cool is how they grow. The plant’s flowers all fuse together, and slowly the fruit starts to form around a core. Wanna watch a timelapse video of it happening? Of course you do. Just come back, ok?
So, pineapples are grown in places like Brazil, Costa Rica, and the Philippines. They are in season in your local grocery stores from March to July, but you can buy pineapples all year round. Pineapples, unlike bananas or avocadoes, do not ripen more after they are harvested, so it’s important that you pick a good one from the store. But how do you know a good pineapple from a bad one?
First, look at it. Color isn’t necessarily a good indicator as pineapples can be green and ripe but also could be more golden yellow. Look at the leaves – make sure they’re nice and green and that they aren’t getting brittle and brown. Everyone doesn’t believe in the pulling a leaf theory, but I do. Pull a leaf from the center of the pineapple; if it gives fairly easily, the fruit is ripe. Now, smell the pineapple. If it smells sweet and like pineapple, it should be good, but if it smells overly like pineapple to the point where it smells a bit fermented or like alcohol, it’s going bad. The skin should look healthy and without cracks and when you squeeze the pineapple, it should give a bit to your touch.
Once you have your pineapple home, it’s time to cut! Not ready? You can keep your pineapple on the counter for up to five days. It won’t ripen or sweeten any more, but, if you are worried that it’s a bit ripe, it will soften a little bit and the acidity will go down a bit. Pineapple’s best flavor is, however, at room temperature, so, don’t cut it until you’re ready to use it. Now, a picture is worth a thousand words, so, this video must be worth a million. Everyone’s got their own way to cut a pineapple, but I like this way because I feel like I have the least amount of waste and the most stable way of cutting it. The gist is that you cut the top and bottom off, quarter the pineapple, remove the core and skin, and cut it how you like. Check it out:
Now, you may not hear about pineapples being a superfruit like pomegranates and you don’t see people putting them in everything like kale, but pineapples have a lot of great nutritious qualities. First, one cup of chunked pineapple has just 74 calories. It also has half of your daily Vitamin C needs, an awesome anti-oxidant and great for your immune system. Its strongest nutrient is the mineral manganese, which is great for energy production, control of your blood sugar, and again, antioxidant properties. It also has a good slug of vitamin B6 and copper.
One of the most remarkable and unique things about pineapple is the enzyme bromelain. Bromelain is a digestive enzyme that breaks down protein. Bromelain has anti-inflammatory properties that have been suggested to be helpful with reducing swelling and inflammation all over the body. For instance, it may help with sore throats, arthritis, gout, and may help speed recovery from surgeries and injuries. Because bromelain breaks down protein, the best way to get these extra benefits is to eat it by itself in between meals. However, there are useful ways to take advantage of the fact that bromelain breaks down protein. Most meat tenderizers that you buy in the store contain extracted bromelain to help soften the meat. If you’d like to do this with pineapple itself, include some fresh pineapple or its juice in your marinade. An important thing to note, though, is that heat destroys bromelain, and most canning processes involve heat, so, in order to get all the benefits bromelain can provide, use and eat fresh pineapple. For the same reason that it can tenderize meats, it can also turn dairy. Milk and other dairy products like yogurt should not have fresh pineapple added to them; it’ll start to break down the protein in them and give it an off-taste. The same goes for gelatin, which won’t set if you use fresh pineapple.
There are lots of ways to incorporate fresh pineapple into your diet. In the morning, it’s great in a smoothie with peach, mango, ginger, and kale. Eat it fresh as a snack, put it on kebabs with chicken, or in the summer, grill it for a delicious side dish.
I know most of you have had fresh pineapple before, but hopefully this gives you more of a reason to go grab one next time you pass by it in the store. They may be intimidating to cut, but it’s really not that bad once you get the hang of it, and for the amount of fruit you get out of a pineapple, they’re economical as well. Pineapple also has a lot of great nutritional properties (as pretty much all fruits and veggies do), so don’t feel guilty about adding it to your diet. It’s a great snack or finish to a meal instead of a slice of cake or a bowl of ice cream.