Tropical Fruits Month:
Global Ingredient Profile
by Kate Heyhoe
With its juicy sweet-tart flavor, and its tender but chewy texture, pineapple has been embraced by cultures around the globe, appearing in such diverse dishes as Indian chutney, South American flan, Indonesian rice, and in the American favorites, pineapple upside-down cake and baked ham.
The pineapple is actually not one fruit, but many. The diamond-shaped segments of the skin and the eyes are actually more than a hundred individual seedless fruits. The prickly short hair-like extensions from the pineapple eyes are in fact the remains of flowers that once bloomed on the pineapple spike.
- Native to Brazil and central America, the pineapple is now a favorite crop in tropical and subtropical climates. Columbus discovered it in Guadaloupe, then brought it to Europe. Clearly the Europeans embraced it, as the pineapple appears in decorative motifs and paintings from the 16th century to the 19th century as a symbol of hospitality.
- Sir Walter Raleigh called it "the princesse of fruits." The Spanish called it piņa, which means pinecone due to its appearance, but the various names in India, Malaysia and South America derive from its Brazilian Tupi Indian name of anana, meaning excellent fruit.
- It wasn't until 1777 that Captain Cook introduced it to the Pacific islands. Canning began in Hawaii in 1892, and in Malaysia about the same time. Today, Hawaii and Malaysia are the main producers, with most pineapples being processed into canned fruit. After the trimmed fruit is canned, the trimmings are made into juice, and the fibrous core into candy.
Cooking with Pineapple
- In Southeast Asia, half-ripe pineapples are used in sour soups, and in Indonesian and Malaysian curries.
- Pineapple makes an excellent marinade and tenderizer because it contains bromeline, an enzyme that digests protein. But be careful not to over-marinate meat: the enzyme is so powerful it will make meat fall apart. Even the pineapple workers must wear gloves to protect their hands from being eaten away. The enzyme also keeps gelatin from setting, so pineapple is not good for fruit jellies.
- For a cool summer drink, boil the peel and trimmings with water and sugar, then chill for a lemonade-like refresher.
- Pineapple can be used in place of jackfruit in recipes. Jackfruit is drier and not as juicy but the flavor is similar.
How to Pick a Pineapple
- Smell it. If it smells fragrant and sweet it will taste that way too. Sometimes the leaves will indicate ripeness, by being easily plucked from the crown, but this depends on the variety. Avoid pineapples with dry, yellow or brown leaves, and instead look for green, crisp and fresh looking leaves.
- Depending on the species, pineapple surfaces may be green, orange, yellow, shiny, dull, and they may be small, large, round, or oval. (The Giant Kew variety weighs over 20 pounds.) Color does not indicate ripeness. Even green pineapples may be juicy and sweet. Pick pineapples that yield to slight pressure, rather than rock-hard ones. But if you want a cooking pineapple that's only partially ripe, make sure the pineapple is hard and firm to the touch.
- The peak season for pineapple is March through July.
- Pineapples will not continue to ripen after picking but will instead begin to decay after 4 weeks. However, if you want a less tart pineapple, let it age for a 3 to 4 days at room temperature. It won't get sweeter but it will lose some acidity.
How to Trim a Pineapple
To get the most flesh from a pineapple, follow these steps using a very sharp knife:
- Slice off the crown as close to the top of the pineapple as possible.
- Cut a thin slice off the bottom so it will stand up straight and even.
- Starting at the top of the pineapple, thinly slice off the outer skin of the pineapple. But don't worry about trimming out the eyes; you'll do that later.
- The eyes are arranged in spirals around the pineapple edges. Turn the pineapple on its side. To cut 3 eyes out of a spiral at a time, place your knife along them and make a V-shaped cut (slicing inward below the eyes, then slicing inward above the eyes). Continue with the next 3 eyes along the spiral and so on until all eyes are removed. Do this with the remaining spirals. When the pineapple is cut into rounds, this method produces a decorative effect as well as reserving the most fruit.
Finally, don't throw out the crown when trimming pineapple. Cut it off with a thick slice of fruit attached, then plant it. With adequate sun, it will grow into a pineapple plant. The fruit grows on a thick stalk out of the center of a spiky leaved plant, which itself looks like the leaves on a pineapple crown.
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