Pineapple: A Tropical Touch for Sweet and Savory Dishes

Pineapple: A Tropical Touch for Sweet and Savory Dishes
Photography by Kate Cauffiel | Food styling by Christina Zerkis | Prop styling by Alicia Blais

A sweet and tangy fruit indigenous to the southern regions of Brazil and Paraguay, pineapple has no relation to apples or pine. Spanish settlers coined the name piña de Indies for the fruit’s pinecone resemblance. English speakers translated this to pineapple, but most other languages call it ananas, meaning “excellent fruit.”

Like figs and mulberries, pineapple is not a single fruit but rather a cluster of berries fused to a core. The fruit’s flowers are visible as “scales” on the thick outer skin.

Growing and harvesting pineapples requires patience. A plant may take three years to mature from a seed and produces only one pineapple per year.

Pollinators such as bees, beetles and, most notably, hummingbirds are required for the plant to reproduce. However, modern farmers have streamlined the process: By cultivating pieces of a parent plant known as propagules, a new plant will bloom. This method yields larger pineapples in less time and eliminates seeds that consumers may find undesirable.

Pineapple is available year-round in the United States, with the majority imported from Costa Rica.

In the Kitchen: Versatile pineapple can be incorporated into anything from savory dishes to decadent desserts. When grilled, pineapple caramelizes, which condenses sugars and intensifies its sweetness. The enhanced flavor complexity balances saltier ingredients, such as the classic pairing with ham or mixed into salsa to serve with tortilla chips.

Bromelain, a mixture of enzymes in fresh pineapple, acts as a meat tenderizer — especially for tougher, less expensive cuts such as flank or shank steak — by breaking down collagen fibers. Pair pineapple juice with teriyaki or soy sauce for a sweet and savory marinade. The
meat’s thickness determines soak time, ranging from 10 to 30 minutes. Timing is important; marinating meat too long can alter its color and taste, and the texture can turn to mush.

For dessert, pineapple shines in hummingbird cake, which pays homage to its avian helper. Consisting of crushed pineapple, banana and pecans, this traditional Southern dessert is an option for bakers who haven’t mastered the skillful flip of a pineapple upside-down cake.

Of course, you can enjoy pineapple fresh. Invest in a pineapple slicer, or use this easy method to cut a whole pineapple: Twist off the top, use a sharp knife to cut the pineapple in quarters, core and peel the skin, then slice into cubes.

Mix fresh pineapple cubes with cottage cheese or add to salads just before serving. Or avoid slicing altogether by purchasing pre-cored and skinned fresh pineapple in the refrigerated produce section of most grocery stores; or buy canned chunks, slices or crushed pineapple.

In the Clinic: Pineapple is loaded with nutrition: One cup of pineapple chunks has 82 calories, is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of thiamin and vitamin B6.

People who have a latex allergy should take caution. A natural-rubber latex allergy is a serious clinical concern, with symptoms ranging from itchy skin to anaphylaxis. It also may result in a crossreaction after consuming certain fresh fruits (including pineapple), vegetables and tree nuts. Known as the latex-fruit syndrome, an estimated 40 to 70 percent of people with a known latex allergy have IgE antibodies that cause proteins in natural-rubber latex and proteins from these implicated foods to cross-react.

Interest in the health effects of bromelain is growing. Although more research is needed, data shows the enzyme may reduce inflammation, blood clots and cancer progression. In vitro cell studies show bromelain’s ability to boost immunity by altering cell function to promote cell death in tumor cells, thereby slowing the progression of cancer.

Bromelain enzymes are obtained from the stems and fruit of pineapple and packaged as creams, capsules and powders. Reported side effects include gastrointestinal distress, increased heart rate and menstrual problems. More research is needed on the safety of bromelain products, so women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should avoid using them. Consult a physician before using bromelain supplements, which could interact with certain sedatives, antibiotics and anticoagulants.

In Quantity: Pineapple does not ripen after being picked. The color of pineapple skin ranges from all green to all yellow; this is not necessarily a sign of ripeness but it does indicate sweetness. A deeper yellow color indicates a higher sugar content. Choose a pineapple with fresh leaves and a plump body that slightly gives when squeezed.

Expect about a 50-percent yield per pound from fresh pineapple. Once trimmed, cored and cut, a 2-pound pineapple provides about 3 cups of chunks. If canned, 8 ounces of pineapple chunks will provide ¾ cup fruit and ¼ cup juice.

In foodservice, pineapple often is used in fruit cups, salads, baked goods, smoothies and stir-fry dishes. Pineapple can be purchased as wedges, cylinders, spears and tidbits in quantities ranging from 12 ounces to 40 pounds. Whole pineapples may be stored at 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 20 days.

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Bethany Oxender
Bethany Oxender, MS, RDN, is a clinical dietitian based in Ann Arbor, MI, specializing in weight management. Follow her on Twitter and read her blog, Urbann Arbor.