by Anastassia Skarlinski
In Hawaiian, they are “hala kahiki,” most other languages call them “ananas;” in English, we call them “pineapples.” The only edible plant in the Bromeliad family has an interesting history. Pineapples likely originate from the rainforests of Brazil before becoming popular in other areas of South America and the Caribbean. When Spanish explorers first came to the Caribbean, they found this fruit, which they called “piña” as it reminded them of pine cones. These same explorers brought this novel fruit back to Europe with them where it became popular. By the 18th century, pineapples were a major status symbol in Europe. They were not often consumed, but you could rent them to take to parties to show how important you were. In the Americas, pineapples were seen as a symbol of hospitality and friendliness. Pineapple symbols were often used to decorate furniture, cloth, gates, and doors, as a way to welcome guests and as a sign of hospitality.
Pineapples are not an apple or a pine but a collection of berries that fuse to form one fruit. Pineapples grow low to the ground, surrounded by the same spiky leaves that make the crown of the pineapple. Each plant only provides one fruit, and a single plant can keep producing fruit for 50 years or so. While they are available fresh, frozen, or canned year-round, their growing season tends to run from March through July. During this time, you can find the sweetest fresh pineapples available.
Pineapples are more than just a refreshing sweet treat! They are a great source of antioxidants, fiber, Vitamins C, B6, B5, thiamine, folate, copper, and manganese. Manganese sounds made-up or like a dog breed but is essential in your body. Manganese helps enzymes work that process proteins, carbohydrates, and cholesterol. It also helps your bones form and helps vitamin K work properly to cause your blood clot. There is an enzyme unique to pineapples known as bromelain. This enzyme is well-known as a meat tenderizer and is now being studied for its role in helping digestion. Pineapples are also being studied for their role in cancer prevention and reduction in inflammation responsible for arthritis and disease.
Many people are intimidated by cutting and preparing pineapple. Several videos can help you decide how you best like to do this. I usually cut off the top crown and the bottom before splitting the pineapple in quarters vertically. I find this is the easiest way to remove the fibrous core. The core is edible but unpleasant to eat. I often will puree the core to use in a meat marinade. After this, you can slice the quarters into individual servings. You can cut off the skin or leave it on to nibble around. If all of this sounds too daunting, then you can buy pineapple in so many other ways: fresh-cut, frozen, and canned. They are all great; use what works best for you.
So, now you have chopped up some pineapple, what do you do with it? You can put pieces in a yogurt parfait. Try putting pieces in a salad with a spicy dressing, or chop it up into a salsa. Sprinkle slices with cinnamon or fresh mint leaves for a bright, refreshing dessert. You can also put pieces in a fresh stir fry for a sweet splash of flavor. As I mentioned before, I puree the core with a jalapeño, a couple of pieces of onion and garlic, and a handful of cilantro. I then use this to marinate boneless skinless chicken thighs before grilling them. Only use this marinade for 20-45 minutes. Any more time will break the meat fibers down too much. A slice of canned pineapple on a chicken sandwich or burger can add a sweet-tart change of pace to the usual toppings. You can also try this refreshing pineapple smoothie.