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The pineapple – a very special kind of berry

Fresh in slices, cubed in a fruit salad, made into a dessert, a cake, chutney or juice – pineapples are versatile and popular fruit. In Germany, they rank third after bananas and citrus fruits in a list of the most frequently eaten exotic fruit. Almost everyone can identify a pineapple, but how many people can tell you what exactly a pineapple is and how it grows?

A bit of pineapple botany

A pineapple actually consists of a large number of berries that have coalesced. Wild pineapples contain between 2,000 and 3,000 small, rough, hard seeds embedded in the flesh, but the pineapples you buy in the shops are cultivars that have been bred not to have any seeds. A pineapple starts life as 100 to 200 single flowers on a cone-shaped inflorescence, which pushes up from the middle of a leaf rosette. The flowers grow together and ripen to the fruit we know. At the upper end of the inflorescence, bracts that look like leaves form an impressive tuft, which remains on the fruit after harvest. This flowering pattern is typical of most bromeliads, the family the pineapple plant (Ananas comosus) belongs to.

Sensational aroma plus health benefits

Analysis of the typical pineapple aroma has found that it’s composed of over 200 volatile substances. And for health benefits, the low-calorie pineapple is hard to beat: it contains many vitamins, especially vitamin C, as well as minerals, enzymes and trace elements such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and zinc. The enzyme bromelain, contained in fresh pineapple, promotes digestion and is said to have anti-inflammatory effects. Raw pineapple juice is an effective meat tenderiser, but for some people bromelain can produce soreness as the enzyme break down the proteins in sensitive tissues in the mouth. It can also stop gelatine gelling, so that a dessert fails to set. The answer here is to heat the fruit or juice briefly, to deactivate the enzyme. 

The sweeter the better

There are over 100 varieties of pineapple grown worldwide, but only a few are commercially viable. The sweet varieties that contain less acid and 3 to 4 times more vitamin C than others are especially popular. Pineapples are available year-round, mostly imported from Costa Rica, the world's largest exporter. The small and intensely aromatic baby pineapples that many people like come from South Africa. Pineapples originated in South America, but today they are grown throughout the tropics, and sometimes also in subtropical climates. 

Shopping for quality fruit

Pineapples won’t ripen much after they’re picked. To identify good quality in fresh pineapples, look for fresh green leaves and a strongly coloured skin with no brown spots, or soft patches. The fruit should feel heavy for its size and exude the characteristic sweet, pineapple aroma. On the plant, fruits ripen from the bottom upwards until the whole fruit is their typical colour – green, yellow, orange-yellow to reddish – depending on the sort. Fresh, whole pineapples are best stored at room temperature. Peeled and cut fruit can be kept in the fridge for a short time, preferably in a closed plastic container.

 

Source: Heike Stommel, www.bzfe.de