What is a pineapple?
Ripe pineapple dripping with sweet juice invokes the sun and the tropics, even in the depths of winter. Its firm yet sweet flesh gives this fruit such culinary versatility that it can be enjoyed seared on a barbeque skewer or grilled and drizzled with coconut cream.
This golden fruit is believed to have originated in South America, in Brazil and Paraguay. Pineapples were cultivated in India long before Christopher Columbus encountered the fruit in 1493 on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. He introduced it to Spain and, by the end of the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese explorers took the fruit to their Asian, African and South Pacific colonies.
In the 1930s, Lutheran missionaries from India introduced pineapples to Australia. Most pineapples are now grown in coastal Queensland, where the climate is warm and perfect for growth. Small crops of this fruit are also grown in northern New South Wales.
In Australia, pineapples are sold as rough leaf or smooth leaf (smooth cayenne) types.
Rough leaf pineapples are smaller than the smooth leaf type. They have rough and spiky skin, which is yellow and tinged with green, which becomes orange-yellow when the fruit is ripe. The leaves are serrated (jagged) and the flesh is sweet and white to yellow in colour. Smooth leaf pineapples are large, pale-fleshed fruit that are juicier than the rough leaf type. The leaves of this pineapple are broad and flat with smooth edges.Sometimes, smooth leaf pineapples with their tops or crowns cut off are available. These are usually sold as Gold Topless pineapples.
Why pineapple is good to eat
- Pineapple is a good source of vitamin C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body).
- It also contains minerals such as manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Pineapple contains dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of pineapple supplies 180 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Pineapple plants grow best in warm areas, where they can reach up to 1 m in height. The plant has a short, stocky stem with tough, spiky and waxy leaves. The leaves are arranged in a spiral around the main stem of the plant. Clusters of flowers appear on the main stalk about 20 months after planting. Depending on the variety, the flowers can be lavender, light purple or red.
Pineapples grow from this cluster of pollinated flowers that join together to form the fruit. Pineapples are usually ready for harvest about 20 months after planting. Pineapple plants only produce one pineapple every fruiting season but the plant can produce fruit for up to 50 years.
Choose pineapples that feel heavy for their size and have fresh-looking leaves and a sweet smell. Avoid those with soft spots or dark bruises on the skin. Overripe pineapples have a fermented, beer-like smell.
How to store and keep pineapples
Store pineapples at room temperature for one or two days. Place whole pineapples in a plastic bag (with the leaves exposed) and store in your fridge. They should be used within two or three days when stored this way.
How to use
- Make a refreshing pineapple salsa – combine chopped pineapple with cucumber, sliced red onion, chopped red chilli and fresh mint and lime juice, then serve with grilled chicken, pork or fish.
- Serve pineapple skewers – marinate chunks of firm fish (or chicken) in a mixture of oil, lemon juice and zest, honey, crushed cardamom seeds and chopped coriander leaves, thread the fish onto bamboo skewers, alternating with chunks of pineapple, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms and then grill until tender.
- Try a simple noodle dish – toss cooked noodles (try egg noodles) with cooked prawns, fresh pineapple chunks, garlic and ginger and dress with a mixture of chopped chilli, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce and chopped coriander leaves.
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