The Versatility of the Pineapple Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Versatility of the Pineapple

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A pineapple, in close-up.
The Holy Grail of every gardener in the western world.

The pineapple was first brought to the attention of the western world in 1493 by Christopher Columbus and his crew on their second voyage to the New World. It was described as:

The shape of a pine cone, twice as big, which fruit is excellent and it can be cut with a knife, like a turnip, and it seems to be wholesome.

That description helped give the tasty fruit its English name. In French, Italian and German it is called ananas, Spanish is piña and the Portuguese call it abacaxi. Sailors stored fruit for long voyages as protection against scurvy, and the pineapple was an ideal addition to the ship's galley due to its long shelf-life. Specimens were shipped back to Europe and William III (1650 - 1702), who had already built a heated orangery (greenhouse) at Hampton Court for growing oranges, successfully cultivated the pineapple.

In the 18th Century when they were first available to purchase, they were considered an incredible delicacy. Pineapples became a status symbol, those who could afford them (one would cost the equivalent of £5,000 in today's money) gave them pride of place at a feast. They were the ultimate luxury food, and a symbol of wealth. Charles II was portrayed in an official portrait receiving a pineapple from the royal gardener John Rose.

Josiah Wedgwood brought out a pineapple range of his popular pottery and earthenware in the 1760s. Carvings of the pineapple featured greatly in architecture and the exotic fruit's image remained popular for well over a century before Greek and Egyptian motifs eclipsed it.

Pre-Victorians grew pineapples in special pineapple pits, where the required heat was provided by a surrounding layer of fermenting manure.

Growing Pineapple

The pineapple (Ananasis comosus) is a fruit from a tropical plant that is used to baking hot sun, so it will only grow wild in places like Thailand, Indonesia, Hawaii, southern Brazil, Malaysia, the Philippines, Paraguay and sub-Saharan Africa (including Ghana and the Ivory Coast), providing those countries with a valuable export. Crops of pineapple are cultivated in southern Florida and Queensland, Australia. Today, over ten million tons of pineapples are produced each year to satisfy worldwide demand.

The pineapple plant is a herbaceous perennial with a thick, fat stem which serves as the core of the fruit. The waxy leaves are long and sharp, and can reach six feet (2m) in length. Small purple or red flowers are pollinated in the wild by hummingbirds, producing seed. The fruit is a compound of lots of small sections which meld to form one perfect fruit, which can grow up to 12" in length and weigh up to ten pounds.

A ripe pineapple has an orange complexion and the top leaves should pull out fairly easily with a sharp tug. Use your nasal sense to check its sweet fragrance.

Small plants can be homegrown in containers. The Kew Gardens website offers the following advice should you wish to attempt to grow your own, in less sunny climes:

Pineapples should be planted in well-drained compost and kept warm and protected from draughts.

Pineapples make interesting potted plants but require plenty of patience, as one Nottinghamshire schoolboy's pineapple took six years to fruit.

Why Pineapple is Good for You

Most people will be familiar with the practice of placing a pineapple ring or two onto a cooked gammon steak, but would they know why, other than it's a great food combination? Pineapple is a rich source of the bromelain group of enzymes, which break down protein. That makes pineapple a natural meat tenderiser and a digestive aid.

Bromelain has also been used successfully as a digestive enzyme following pancreatectomy, in cases of pancreas insufficiency, and in other intestinal disorders. The bromelain enzyme has an anti-inflammatory action. A combination of bromelain and quercetin (which is commercially available) is beneficial for complaints such as gout, rheumatism and arthritis. Quercetin is a plant pigment found in red wine and some vegetables and fruits (eg cranberry, apples, onions) which can inhibit the formation of uric acid crystals. Pineapple juice is rich in the mineral manganese, which has been found to be reduced by up to two-thirds in women suffering from osteoporosis.

So, you already knew pineapple tasted good, now you know it's beneficial for you too.

Drinking Pineapple

  • There are pineapple-based drinks such as the popular Piña Colada, which is rum, coconut milk and crushed pineapple. This basic recipe can be adapted to suit different tastes, for example a Virgin Piña Colada would suit teetotallers as it has no rum. Neat pineapple juice can be used to flavour alcoholic spirits like vodka, rum and gin. Pineapple juice can be frozen in ice-cube trays so you're not diluting your drinks.
  • Antony Worrall Thompson from the BBC's Ready Steady Cook programme recommends a pineapple smoothie which requires no cooking.
  • You might also like to try a pineapple and yoghurt lassi, recommended by chef Ross Burden, which also doesn't need any cooking.
  • A non-alcoholic  cocktail called Afterglow is made with 1 part grenadine, 4 parts orange juice and 4 parts pineapple juice; mixed and served over ice.
  • If you add ginger when making a pineapple drink it laces the froth. Either run fresh cut pineapple spears and fresh ginger root through a juicer or add extract to the blender if preparing as a smoothie.
  • Some people drink pineapple juice when they have a sore throat.

Eating Pineapple

  • Pineapple cubes are a great finger food, rating highly on the 'sexy fun and games with food' scale. The chunks make a good base for buffet cocktails, serve them on a platter with cocktail sausages1, cubed cheese and silverskin onions, speared with a cocktail stick.
  • Caramelised pineapple rings are delicious and simple to prepare. They can be used in a variety of ways, to brighten up a bland dish like rice pudding; atop a plain sponge cake or serve chilled. All you need is two tablespoons of caster sugar, melted in a pan until it is caramelised, then add two pineapple rings, coat both sides and cook for three minutes. Double up the recipe as required. You can chill the caramelised pineapple rings (on foil or greaseproof paper, or you will lose the coating) and serve with vanilla ice-cream topped with maple syrup.
  • Pineapple fritters are an excellent way of getting children to eat one of their five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Simply coat the pineapple ring in batter (pancake or Yorkshire pudding mix) then fry in heated oil until browned, and serve immediately.
  • Pineapple toppings can be added to most meat pizzas, (the Hawaiian pizza is ham and pineapple); pineapple compliments tuna; and adds flavour to cottage cheese.

Tip: If preparing a fruit salad, peeled or cut apples and pears can be soaked in pineapple juice for five minutes to prevent them from turning brown.

A Warning About Jelly

Jelly (that's the wobbly, children's party food, not American 'jam') made with fresh pineapple2 does not set. This is because jelly consists of gelatin (a protein) which is insoluble. Bromelain in the fresh pineapple degrades the gelatin to form amino acids, which are soluble. Jelly made with processed pineapple does set because, during the canning process, pineapple is heated to a temperature high enough to alter the bromelain enzyme (a protein itself) making it inactive. So, you get set jelly.

Other Uses

  • Pineapple husk blended with silk and linen creates an exclusive fibre which can be woven into cloth, creating a lightweight alternative to more rougher, heavier fabrics like tweed. A collection of sporting jackets was being marketed by a leading fashion designer for the summer season in 2002.
  • Pineapple husk can be used to make paper. Recycling the thick outer husk makes an attractive hued and textured paper.
  • When athletes injure their muscles they should eat fresh pineapple, because the enzyme bromelain, as well as other nutrients, aid the healing process by breaking down the affected tissue. Some bromelain can be absorbed into the blood plasma without being broken down, and therefore can affect muscle, tendons and other tissues. The fruit should be consumed within an hour of the husk being removed, as after this time the enzyme becomes less effective.

Pineapples in Popular Culture

The image of the pineapple is popular the world over, and particularly in the countries where they are produced. It seems like everyone who visits Hawaii brings back a Hawaiian shirt (or shorts) covered in pineapples. Early sea captains would place a pineapple on their gateposts when returning from their voyages, to let neighbours know they were home, and would be pleased to entertain them.

The National Trust for Scotland owns a 45'-tall pineapple garden folly built by the 4th Earl of Dunmore (the last colonial governor of Virginia) in 1761 at Dunmore Park, near Airth in Stirlingshire.

Accessories and co-ordinates for kitchens with pineapple motifs are a best-seller. You can even purchase cutlery with pineapples on the handles. Pineapple-decorated dishes, aprons, oven gloves and ironing board covers are not uncommon. There are curtains, tablecloths and napkins to match, and don't forget a pineapple 'Welcome' plaque for the outside wall! Don't lose track of time with a pineapple wall clock; keep your letters and keys safe and hang a pineapple wind chime by the door!

Fascinating Facts About Pineapples

  • Tests are being carried out on crushed pineapple stems in the hope of finding a new anti-cancer drug.

  • Workers who cut up pineapples eventually have no fingerprints, this being due to the action of the proteolytic enzyme, bromelain, dissolving them. This trick is well-referenced by authors of the crime novel world.

  • 'It Couldn't Please Me More' is also known as the 'Pineapple Song', from 'Cabaret' - the Musical. It is a duet between Fräulein Schneider and Herrn Schultz after he brings her a gift of a pineapple from his fruit shop.

  • The Lost Gardens at Heligan in Cornwall have produced ripe pineapples using the Victorian method (see above) in their restored pineapple pit. Due to the huge amount of labour involved, these pineapples cost between £600 and £1,000 each to produce in 1997.

  • Popular children's cartoon character Sponge Bob Square Pants lives in a pineapple husk in an underwater town called Bikini Bottom beneath the Bikini Atoll, in the central Pacific Ocean.

  • In the BBC TV comedy series Only Fools And Horses, the Piña Colada was the favourite drink of character Derek 'Del Boy' Trotter (Sir David Jason).

  • 'Escape' (The Piña Colada Song), was a hit record by Rupert Holmes about two people trapped in a seemingly loveless relationship. It turned out they both liked Piña Colada, making love at midnight and getting caught in the rain, and rediscovered their love for each other.

  • The Men's Singles Trophy in the annual All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club tournament (Wimbledon) is a silver gilt cup which is 18½" tall, has two handles, and a gilded pineapple on the lid.

Pineapple Recipes


  • Pineapple Kebabs With Angostura
  • Sweet Potato Mash with Walnuts and Pineapple
  • Pineapple Curry
  • Pineapple Tatin
  • Pineapple and Raspberry Crumble
  • Pineapple Upside-down Cake
  • White Chocolate and Pineapple Sponge Cake with Almond Crunch


  • Pineapple and Prawn Salsa (no cooking required)
  • Chargrilled Honey-mustard Gammon with Pineapple and Red Pepper Chutney
  • Spiced Duck Breast with Pak Choi and Pineapple Salsa
  • Sweet and Sour Lamb with Pineapple
  • Crab Fritters with Pineapple Relish
  • Salmon Fish Cakes with Pineapple Dipping Sauce
  • Crusted Tuna with Pineapple Relish

Pineapple left-overs can be used to make a delicious appetising dish by the addition of other ingredients you may have in your fridge. A mix of brown rice and pineapple with other foods like peppers, peas, cashew nuts and onion thrown in can make a fulfilling meal.

1If you can't find cocktail sausages, cut uncooked hot dogs into quarters instead.2This also applies to papaya and kiwi fruit, which contain different proteolytic enzymes.

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