About Pineapple

Pineapple

(Ananas comosus) This native of central America is now well known and widely cultivated wherever a tropical or sub-tropical climate permits. It is actually a false fruit, made up of a hundred or more seedless true fruits, which are the regular shaped segments on the outside and the 'eyes' which are revealed when the colored skin is sliced away. The 'eyes' consist of round holes arranged in rows, in the centers of which are stiff, short brown hairs, remnants of the hundred or more flowers which crowded the woody spike.

There are many varieties of pineapple, small, large, round, oval, green, orange, yellow, shiny or matt surfaced. The flesh is pale to bright yellow with variable sweetness and fiber. Those with a matt orange or yellow-colored skin might not look as attractive as those with shiny skin but this, teamed with a short crown of spiky-edged leaves, usually indicates a very sweet variety of pineapples commonly called 'roughies'.

While it is a delicious fruit to eat ripe and sweet for breakfast, lunch or dessert, in Asia, the pineapple is used in many other ways. For instance, half-ripe pineapples are used in Vietnamese and Cambodian sour soups and Malaysian or Indonesian curries.

Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromeline which digests protein, which is why fresh pineapple will not allow gelatin to set and should not be included in a fruit jelly. On the other hand, this property is used to good effect to tenderize tough cuts of meat by rubbing it over the meat before cooking.

Purchasing and storage : If you wish to buy a fully ripe pineapple, be guided by the scent of the fruit. A ripe pineapple will smell deliciously fragrant. Tug at one of the smallest outer leaves in the crown. If really ripe, the leaf will detach itself without too much effort, though this is not always the case, depending on the variety. Some part with their leaves easily, others don't. If the thin skin which half covers each segment has brown tips, it indicates the pineapple is fully ripe.

If you want to select a half-ripe pineapple which is firm and right for cooking, make sure it is hard to the touch. Color is not a good indication of how ripe a fruit is, and even a deep green pineapple may be ripe and sweet. Firm ripe or half-ripe pineapples are best for Thai salads which combine fruit, seafood, beef or chicken with a salty, sour dressing.

Pineapples can be left at room temperature for a few days and will stay firm and continue to ripen. To hasten ripening, put the fruit in a polythene bag with a ripe banana, close the bag and leave at room temperature.

Preparation : Too much of pineapple gets wasted because many people think the only way to remove all traces of the 'eyes' is to slice off a thick layer of flesh with the skin. There is a better way to do this, decorative and much less wasteful.

For a start, use a good, sharp stainless steel knife as the fruit reacts with carbon steel. Cut a small slice off the top, removing the crown of leaves. Cut another slice from the bottom of the fruit so it will stand flat and firm on the chopping board. Then, beginning at the top, thinly slice off the colored skin in strips. Never mind if the eyes are left. Notice how they are arranged in beautifully regular spiral rows around the fruit. Lay the fruit on its side and make a series of angled, V-shaped cuts, following the rows and excising 3 eyes at a time. Place the next cut where the last one ended. When you have gone all the way around the fruit following that row, start on the next one. This not only saves wasting much of the fruit, but gives a most decorative effect for serving the fruit whole or cut into crosswise rounds or lengthwise spears.

To cut pieces for including in soups or curries, after the pineapple has had the skin and eyes removed as described above, slice lengthways into 6 or 8 sections, depending on the size of the fruit. Then lay the pieces on the board and cut off the core. The wedges of fruit can then be sliced across into neat, entirely edible pieces.

There is no denying that there is a lot wasted in a pineapple. Wash the fruit well before peeling it and use the peel, core and trimmings from removing the 'eyes' to make a refreshing thirst-quenching cordial, boiled with water and sugar.

Even the leaves can be put to good use. Cut off the leafy crown attached to a thick slice of the fruit, plant it in a warm sunny spot and it will, given a couple of years, grow into another pineapple plant.

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