Ingredient of the week: Pineapple
Like mango, pineapple is a tropical fruit, native to Paraguay, it is now grown all across South America, the Caribbean and southern Asia. Technically one pineapple is not one fruit, but between 100 and 200 mini fruitlets fused together around one central core. It is the only edible plant from the bromeliad family which it belongs to. Its name is derived from the Spanish word pina, meaning pine, as it has a resemblance to a pine cone and apple because of its tasty fruit. Pineapple is both sweet and tart in flavour. It is incredibly juicy, making it a tasty and refreshing addition to both sweet and savoury dishes.
When whole, pineapple is both a funny looking and feeling fruit. The top of the pineapple has a crown of green spiky leaves that should be easily pulled out when the fruit is ripe enough to eat. And the skin is covered in rough spiny markings or eyes. The skin feels scaley to touch but the flesh is softer and moister inside. The flesh nearer the base of the pineapple is sweeter than nearer the top, due to there being a higher sugar content towards the base.
Popular uses for pineapple include pineapple upside down cake, which my mum would often make for dessert, following a roast dinner. It makes a refreshing flavour for sorbet, ice-cream or yogurt. Due to an enzyme contained within pineapple that helps to breakdown protein, it makes a great addition to marinades for meat or poultry. This is why you often find pineapple served alongside gammon. The chinese speciality, sweet and sour features pineapple, be it the juice used to flavour the sauce or fresh pineapple chunks added. The Hawaiian pizza, ham and pineapple, is also extremely popular, but possibly most famous, is the cocktail pina colada. This is a mix of rum, coconut and pineapple. When myself and Neil were in Jamaica, we got shown how to make a proper pina colada using fresh coconut milk from the coconut we had just picked. It was so amazing that I have never been able to enjoy a pina colada in the same way since, as they never really live up to that standard.
Why is it good for me?
Yet again, pineapple is another fruit or vegetable high in fibre, which helps improve digestion. It is a good source of Vitamin C, needed for fighting infection and disease, helping absorb iron in to the body and cell growth and repair. While the high levels of manganese, as well as some thiamin, help to keep the metabolic system working efficiently, ensuring muscles are supplied with the right amount of energy.
Pineapple also contains an enzyme bromelain, a phytonutrient that contains anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial qualities. There is increasing evidence to suggest it is beneficial for preventing cardiovascular diseases such as thrombosis by helping to prevent blood from clotting. It is also believed to aid in wound and gut ulcer healing. This is due to its anti-inflammatory benefits, which have also been found to be effective in healing muscle damage after strenuous exercise. Great for athletes, especially those in a heavy strength block.
How do I prepare it?
Fresh pineapple can be very daunting to prepare if you don’t know what you are doing. You need to use a long bladed knife like a chef’s knife to make it easier. Firstly lay the pineapple horizontally on a chopping board and slice off the top and bottom. Discard both. Then stand the pineapple upright so its bottom is flat on the chopping board. I then cut the pineapple in half, quarters and then depending on size, in to wedges. I then feel for where the skin and flesh meet and run the knife down the flesh to remove the skin from it. Next I feel the other end for where the flesh and core meet and repeat the slicing process with the knife. The core feels harder and tougher than the flesh and the skin feels dryer and again tougher than the flesh, so once you know what you are feeling for it is pretty simple. I then slice the wedges of flesh that I am left with in to chunks.
You can buy a tool from Lakeland to help you prepare a pineapple. It stamps out the core and separates the flesh from the skin in a spiral, but I find, as its one size fits all, that there is a lot of flesh and juice wasted from this method of preparation, so I don’t like to use it. If you aren’t so confident with using a sharp knife however, then this tool would be great for you to use. Your other options are to buy it tinned or frozen, or even ready prepared, so if preparing it really does put you off, then there are so many options for you to still include it in your diet. Personally I believe fresh is best, especially when in season, but tinned or frozen are great substitutes. If buying tinned however, make sure it is the version canned in juice and not syrup, as the additional sugar is not good for you. Fresh pineapple juice is also readily available in shops, but be careful not to drink too much of it as again the sugar content is intensified and so high in calories.
How do I cook it?
There are so many ways to include pineapple in your diet. From simply drinking the fresh juice or blending it in to a smoothie, to slicing it up and having it for dessert on its own, mixed with other fruits as a fruit salad or even with some yogurt or ice cream. Like mango, I can’t get enough of it when I’m away in hotels and it gets put out on a buffet. I love the stuff.
In savoury, my favourite recipe that includes pineapple is this chicken creole. This was the first recipe I tried making from scratch and Neil rates it as one of his favourite meals ever. Its also great in a stir-fry like this prawn fried rice recipe. It is simply a fabulous addition to several Asian dishes, like this healthy sweet and sour prawn one, or this prawn and pineapple sweet potato curry. It also is delicious diced in to a salsa with chilli, coriander, lime and avocado and served as an accompaniment to grilled steak, the same as in this steak with spicy rice and mango salsa but swapping mango for pineapple.
I hope reading this has inspired you to try cooking more with pineapple. Please give some of my recipes a try and let me know how you get on.
Thanks for reading and speak soon.