Pineapple – Prickly, sweet and full of flavour

by Sanjeev Kapoor

Did you know that pineapple is not really a single fruit, but a cluster of up to 200 fruitlets? Well, now you know. I would also like to tell you all that pineapples can be easily grown in your own backyard. All you need to do is twist the crown on a pineapple that you have bought from the market, dry it for a couple of days and then plant it.

Once that is done it will take around two years to start producing fruit. Each plant will flower for only one day and produce only one fruit at a time. Moreover they usually do not produce more than two pineapples during their life-cycle where the second fruit is much smaller than the first.

What is a pineapple?
The pineapple, like I mentioned earlier, is technically not a single fruit, but a sorosis. The fruits of a hundred or more separate flowers grow on the plant spike and as they grow, they swell with juice and pulp, expanding to become the fruit, as we know it.

Contrary to what most people think, pineapple does not grow on a tree. It is the fruit of a bromeliad, rising from the center on a single spike surrounded by sword-like leaves. Moreover pineapple plant is the only bromeliad to produce edible fruit.

Commercially pineapple plants are harvested for two to three years only, because like I mentioned earlier the fruit begins to get smaller with each year of plant life.

Where did it originate?
According to history pineapple originated in Paraguay in South America. It was then introduced to South and Central America and to the West Indies by the local Indians. Thence it was brought to Spain in 1493 when Christopher Columbus discovered America. Thereafter it carried to the rest of the world by the sailors who took pineapple with them wherever they sailed to protect themselves from scurvy.

Its botanical name is Ananas comosus and belongs to the family of Bromeliaceae. So now you know why it is called ananas here in India.

Health benefits
I love pineapple and have it as often as I can. First of all it is low in calories besides being a storehouse of seven health promoting essential compounds, minerals and vitamins.

Its flesh does not contain any saturated fats or cholesterol and is a rich source of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber like pectin.

Pineapple also contains proteolytic enzyme bromelain which helps to digest food by breakingdown protein. Besides bromelain it also has anti-inflammatory, anti-clotting and anti-cancer properties. Scientific studies have proved that regular consumption of pineapple helps us fight against arthritis, indigestion and worm infestation.

That is not all, fresh pineapple is also an excellent source of antioxidants and vitamin C which is required for the collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen is the main structural protein in the body required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body protect from scurvy.

Pineapple also contains traces of Vitamin A and beta-carotene which are known to have antioxidant properties. Vitamin A is also required maintaining healthy mucus membranes, skin and essential for vision. Studies have suggested that consumption of natural fruits rich in flavonoids helps the human body to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.

In addition, this fruit is rich in B-complex group of vitamins like folates, thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin and minerals like copper, manganese and potassium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Copper is a helpful cofactor for red blood cell synthesis. Manganese is a co-factor for the enzyme superoxide dismutase, which is a very powerful free radical scavenger.

Phew, that’s a hell of a lot of nutritional benefits that we can enjoy by regular consumption of this fruit.

How to choose the fruit?
While buying pineapple always choose a fruit that is heavy for its size. The only difference between a large and small pineapple is its size, since there is usually no difference in quality.

Remember the fruit should not have any soft spots, bruises, mould or darkened eyes all of which are signs that the fruit is not fresh. You can also tap a finger against the side of the fruit to judge its freshness, ripeness and quality. A ripe pineapple of good quality has a dull, solid sound whereas a poor quality of the fruit will have a hollow thud.

It stops ripening once it is picked, so choose a fruit which has a sweet and fragrant smell at the stem end.

Ripe pineapples spoil fast at room temperature. At the same time they are chill sensitive and cannot be stored in refrigerator for a long time hence they should be used up as early as possible.

Culinary uses
Pineapple can be used to great effect in preparing various sweet and savoury dishes. Remember Pineapple Upside Down Cake, which is not just delicious, but it is a visual delight too.

Pineapple juice can be served by itself or in combination with other juice to make a fantastic mocktail. Remember Pina Colada? Simply yummy….

Pineapple is an excellent addition to salads like for example Russian Salad. And also fruit salad. Pineapple soufflé is also simply delicious. Only thing one must remember while using fresh pineapple is that never combine it with milk or milk products for the product will taste bitter.

Pineapple can be peeled and cut in many ways. The easiest way is to first chop off the crown and the base of the fruit, then peel the fruit by placing its base side down and carefully slicing off the skin. Carve out any remaining "eyes" with the tip of your knife. Once the fruit is peeled, you can then cut the fruit in either roundels or chunks.

Caution please
For all its goodness one has to keep in mind that pineapple can sometime cause harm too. The fruit contains proteolytic enzyme bromelain that may cause excessive uterine bleeding if consumed in large quantities during pregnancy. So it is advisable for pregnant women to stay away from this fruit.

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.