(Ananas comosus— Family Bromeliaceae)
ananas (French/Italian/Russian/ Polish/Serbo-Croat/Romanian/Bulgarian/Turkish/Hebrew/Hindi), Ananas (German), piña (Spanish), ananás (Portuguese/Greek), anánás (Arabic/Persian), annasi pazham (Tamil), sapparot (laai)(Thai), nanas (Malay/Indonesian), pinya (Philippines), bo luo (Chinese), painappuru (Japanese)
Pineapples are members of the family of tropical plants called the “bromeliads”, and are the only edible species of that family.
Most languages of the world adopted the word for pineapple from the Brazilian Tupi Indian word “nana” or “anana” (meaning excellent fruit), and not from the name “piña” (pine cone), which the first Spanish explorers gave it.
The pineapple is not a single fruit but a composite mass of between 100 and 200 berry-like fruitlets
that form together into one compact fruit. These fruits grows on a short stem springing from a low plant with large, gray-green, pointed leaves. Some can reach twenty pounds but those grown commercially usually hover around four pounds.
The pineapple is the most popular of all tropical fruits, and is grown in hot regions all around the world. Pineapples were first cultivated by the Guarani Indians of Brazil and Paraguay, who have long used it for aiding in digestion and for wound healing.
Several Ananas species grow wild in Brazil, most bearing edible but seedy fruits. No primitive form of the fruit has ever feen found, so the evolution of it remains a mystery. From Brazil, pinepple cuttings were taken to The West Indies long before the arrival of Europeans.
When Columbus discovered the fruit on his voyage to West Indies, he was so astonished with it that it was one of the first fruits he took back to Europe. Because of their rarity and high cost, they soon became a symbol of hospitality, and stone replicas were often featured on the gateposts to welcome guests. The pineapple became a fashionable decorative motif in buildings and furniture over the next 100 years.
By the 1520s, European gardeners had managed to grow the fruit in hothouses. The first successful attempt appeared in 1661 in the garden of Charles II, who consumed the fruit with relish unlike his Spanish counterpart. When one was presented to Spanish King Charles V, he refused to touch it.
On the other hand, when the pineapple was offered to Louis XV of France, his passion for the fruit made it even more highly prized. By the 19th century, hothouse cultivation had become a fine art in England; but, when the varieties they developed (Cayenne and Queen) were introduced to the Azores, reason for hothouse cultivation disappeared as it was just near enough for the perishable cargo to survive the voyage to Europe.
By the middle of the 16th century, the fruit had also reached India, Java, and China. But not until 1777 was the fruit introduced to the Pacific Islands by Captain Cook. Today, the fruit is grown in every tropical region of the world.
The main producers are Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Malaysia, and Brazil; but the bulk of the crop is canned. The huge pineapple industry began in Hawaii in 1892 and in Singapore about the same time.
Pineapples contain an enzyme (bromelain) that is used to aid digestion and to tenderize meat, which will not only be tender but will likely fall apart. This is the reason that fresh pineapple cannot be used in gelatin desserts as it will break down the protein in the gelatin. Since heating destroys this enzyme, gelatin desserts are successfully made using canned pineapple.
Bromelain is a proteolytic (protein-dissolving) enzyme similar to papain in unripe papaya and ficin in fresh figs. It can be so strong that plantation and cannery workers must wear rubber gloves to prevent their hands from being eaten away.
The enzyme has also proven to break down many harmful proteins and may well play an important role in thrombosis treatments in the future. Thrombosis is a blockage of blood vessels by clots and are responsible for a significant number of deaths each year. Heart attacks are most often the result of blockage in the blood vessels serving the heart, while strokes are the result of similar blockages in the vessels of the brain.
The damage done from these clots is caused largely by a protein called fibrin, which bromelain is able to break down. Progress in this area is slow, however, as the medical establishment is still reluctant to admit that diet plays any significant part in illness or recovery. Bromelain is extracted mainly from the stems of pineapple, although it is also present in the fruit and leaves.
Pineapples are rich in both vitamin C and dietary fiber. When choosing a pineapple, pick one that seems heavy for its size as it will likely be juicier. To test for ripeness, pull at one of the bottom leaves. If it comes out easily, it is ripe. It is the lower part of the pineapple that will be the sweetest.
Unpeeled pineapple should not be stored in the fridge, although after it is peeled and cubed, it can. Canned pineapple is available either packed in syrup or in its own juice. Pineapples are delicious if eaten fresh and go well with any other fruit, fresh or canned.
Canned pineapples require the fruit to be severely trimmed in order to fit the can. The hard core is removed and may be candied, and the offcuts are saved to make juice. When picked ripe and fresh, the core is often quite edible and not tough or stringy as when found in older pineapples.
Unlike most fruits, pineapples do not continue to ripen or sweeten after picking since it has no reserve starch to be converted into sugars. It will start to deteriorate gradually, however, and keeping them in the fridge does prolong this process.
There are hundreds of varieties of pineapple, ranging from very large to miniature size. There are also some excellent dwarf varieties whose core is edible. These mainly come from Thailand and South Africa.
The intermediate variety is Abacaxi, which can weigh up to eleven pounds. The extreme is the Giant Kew, known to reach twenty pounds.
Some of the common varieties include the following:
is a rather misleading term. Although large, its yellowish-white flesh has a mild flavour.
is relative large and cone-shaped. Its yellow flesh has plenty of both acid and sugar.
is an old variety miniature grown in South Africa. It has rich yellow flesh, a milder flavour, and is less acidic than other pineapples, but only half. It is one with a sweet edible core. An excellent modern variety is the Natal Queen.
is square-shaped, with a tough shell, and comes from the Caribbean. It has a spicy, acidic flavour and is usually eaten fresh. The larger variety is the principal one grown for canning.
is a new variety developed by Del Monte in Hawaii. It is not only sweeter, but also contains three times more vitamin C than other pineapples.
is an elongated pineapple from Taiwan that can be pulled apart rather than sliced. Each handful reaps a sweet and juicy section. It must be remembered that the Cherimoya is a variety of pineapple and should not be confused with another totally different fruit by the same name, Cherimoya.