Discovered in the wilds of the New World, no single piece of produce has been more symbolic than the pineapple. From the 15th century until the 19th century, the pineapple was a rare treat of royalty and the wealthy. So much so that King Charles II official portrait, from the 1600's, displays him in the act of royal privilegereceiving the gift of a pineapple.
Because of its scarcity, the pineapple became associated with social awe and recognition. Serving pineapple to guests showed the prominence, and often the resourcefulness, of the host. Guests served the tropical fruit were thus honored by their hosts. The iconic shape of the pineapple would quickly become symbolic of welcome and hospitality.
In Colonial America, sailors would display a pineapple at the entrance to their home to alert the neighbors to their safe return after a voyage and readiness to receive visitors. This welcoming tradition influenced architecture of the time. Pineapple motifs were common in Colonial architecture at the entrance of prominent buildings.
While the pineapple is available year-round, thanks to modern canning, nothing can compare to the freshness of a fresh pineapple. With a peak season for the pineapple is March through July, the sweet and acidic flavors of the pineapple are welcome additions to both sweet and savory dishes.
Pineapple In History
The pineapple (Ananas comosus)
is a tropical plant in the Bromeliaceae family. Growing from a center stalk surrounded by thick, sword-like leaves, the pineapple is the only bromeliad fruit that is edible, and the plant family's only commercial success story.
Pineapples originated in Brazil and Paraguay and were enjoyed by the ingenious tribes who called the fruit "anana" which translates to "excellent fruit". Indian migration and sea faring tribes would bring the fruit north to the Caribbean islands. Discovered there by Columbus in the late 15th century, Spanish sailors would introduce the fruit to Europe and subsequently to North America, Asia, Africa and beyond.
Columbus originally named the fruit "piña de los Indes," meaning pine of the Indes, for its resemblance to the conifer pine cone. Interestingly, the pine cone was originally referred to as a pineapplebeing the fruit of the conifer tree. The difference between the terms pine cone, in reference to the conifer, and pineapple, in reference to the fruit, would occur in the late 17th century as the pineapple fruit became more commonly available.
By the end of the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese sailors had introduced pineapples into their colonies in Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific, where pineapples still grow today. Hawaii became the "pineapple state" (officially, the Aloha State), when James Dole established the first commercial pineapple plantation. Dole was not the first person to grow pineapples in Hawaii, they had been introduced in the early 19th century. However, Dole was the first to make use of the newly perfected canning technology and established a commercial canning enterprise that would make pineapple an American staple.
How to Select Pineapples
A pineapple will weigh between 4 and 9 pounds when ripe. But size is not a good indicator of ripeness. Some varietals of pineapple are smaller. However, a larger pineapple will have a larger ratio of edible fruit.
Unlike many fruit, color of a pineapple is also not a good indication of ripeness. The color change that occurs in the pineapple is the result of sugar moving from the plant into the fruit. It is not optimal to buy a pineapple that is completely green: at least the base should have some golden color. Typically, in most varieties, the higher the yellow coloring, the sweeter the fruit typically tastes. However, some varieties of pineapple are considered ripe when still green.
There are two well-known myths that circulate about "ripening" a pineapple post-purchase. However, contrary to popular belief, being able to easily pull leaves from the crown is not a sign of ripeness. In addition, storing a pineapple on its crown, believed to let the sugar run to the top of the fruit, will not make a pineapple sweeter. In fact, when stored at room temperature for long periods, a pineapple will turn more acidic. A pineapple will not continue to ripen after being picked, making the selection process important.
Signs of a Ripe Pineapple:
- Firm and heavy for its size (a pineapple will usually weigh between 4 and 9 pounds. Larger pineapple will have a larger ratio of edible fruit to core)
- green, compact crown of leaves,
- smells sweet and has an intense pineapple smell at the stem end (base),
- from Hawaii or Central America, as they tend to be the freshest for North America.
Avoid Pineapple With:
- yellowed leaves,
- soft spots,
- visible bruises,
- oozing skin,
- darkened eyes,
- musty, sour, or fermented smell
How to Store Pineapple
Fresh pineapple can be stored at room temperature for a few days. However, fresh pineapple will perish easily, so it is best to purchase them within two days of eating. Additionally, storing a pineapple at room temperature will not help improve sweetness, but will increase the acidity of the fruit. Pineapple may be refrigerated, frozen, dried, or canned to help prolong its shelf life.
- Room temperature: up to 2 days
- Refrigerated: store whole in a perforated plastic bag or cut* in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. (*Ideally, store cut pineapple submerged in juice)
- Frozen: store in airtight container or bag with natural juice for up to 6 months.
- Canned: store up to 1 year in a cool, dry cabinet.
How to Clean and Prepare a Pineapple
A fresh pineapple must be skinned and cored before eating. Trimming can be done with a pineapple corer
or using a knife.
A pineapple corer
is a corkscrew for a pineapple. After the crown and top of the pineapple are cut off, the corer is in twisted into the fruit flesh. Turning the the corer into the pineapple flesh will separate the fruit from the skin, spiral cut the meat, and remove the core with twisting movement. The handle is typically removable so that the pineapple will slide right off into a serving dish.