In Season: Pineapple by Toby Amidor in In Season, December 29, 2009
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This delightful fruit brightens up savory and sweet dishes — especially during the dreary winter season. Read up on the many benefits and versatile uses of this tropical treasure.
What, Where & When?
Pineapple isn’t related to the pine nut, the pine tree or even apples. It’s the only edible fruit from the Bromeliacae family. The English dubbed it “pineapple” because they thought it resembled a cross between a pine cone and apple. It’s also called ananas, from the Paraguayan word nana, which literally means “exquisite fruit.”
For centuries, the pineapple was used to symbolize hospitality. Christopher Columbus introduced the fruit, which is native to Central and South America, to Europe after he discovered them in the Caribbean. Today, Hawaii is the leading producer of pineapple.
Pineapples take 18 months to grow and can only be harvested when ripe, unlike many other fruit (bananas, for example). Popular varieties include the Cayenne, Red Spanish, Sugar Loaf and the Golden Supreme; Cayenne and Red Spanish are the two grown mainly in the United States. Cayenne pineapples from Hawaii are long and cylindrical with golden-yellow skin and long, spear-shaped leaves sprouting from a single tuft. The Red Spanish variety is shorter and plumper with a reddish golden-brown skin and leaves that radiate from several tufts. All pineapples have bumpy diamond-patterned skins and weigh typically between two to five pounds (though they can weight up to 20 pounds!).
Although available year-round, you’ll find the juiciest, sweetest ones beginning in March into the summer when they are in peak season.
A cup of pineapple chunks contains 82 calories, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber and 131% of your daily recommendations for vitamin C. That serving also contains 76% of your daily manganese, a nutrient for good bone health. Pineapple also contains protein-digesting enzymes called bromelain, which help fight inflammation in our bodies.
What To Do With Pineapple?
Enjoy pineapple’s sweetness just as is or slice it in wedges for a prettier presentation (here are good step-by-step cutting instructions). Pineapple also makes a wicked salsa that goes well with chicken, fish pork, and even beef. The fruit also works in any dish that calls for baking (like on a pizza), broiling (a glaze on a roast), grilling (on skewers with meats or fruits) and sautéed (pair cooked bits with ice cream). Try frozen pineapple chunks in a your favorite fruit smoothie.
Pineapple’s juice makes a marvelous marinade; its acids and digestive proteins help tenderize meat. You can also use the juice to create delicious juice blends, cocktails and even a fruity spritzers when you combine it with seltzer.
Oh and if you don’t want to have to cut a fresh piece, you can turn to canned. You’ll find it in tidbits, chunks and rings. Choose pineapple that’s canned in its own juices or in water to minimize the added sugar.
Shopping Tip: Choose a pineapple that feels heavy for its size and smells sweet on the stem side. There shouldn’t be any soft spots, bruises or signs of greening. Fresh pineapple is ripe and ready to eat. You can store it at room temperature for up to two days or in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to four days. Keep cut-up pineapple in an airtight container in the refrigerator for no more than three days. Add a little bit of the pineapple’s juice in there to help the chunks stay fresher.