Exotic Pineapple

Top of Pineapple, Ananas comosus. © Karen Netto (Andrews)

What does an advent botanist do, when she discovered after buying the fruit that the most definitive Pineapple blog had already been written? The writer says find a new angle. The scientist says that every experiment must be repeatable. The botanist cannot resist dissecting it for personal investigation. The fruit-lover says: “Oh well, I’ll eat and enjoy it anyway”.

Selecting your Pineapple

Pineapple, Ananas comosus
Pull out a leaf to check if your Pineapple, Ananas comosus, is ripe
© Karen Netto (Andrews)

Before experiments, investigations and sampling can take place, you have to choose your Pineapple. There seem to be a lot of green Pineapples on sale this Christmas. It is important to realise that a Pineapple does not continue to ripen or sweeten after it is picked. Pineapple does not have a starch reserve to convert into sugar. This means that if a fresh Pineapple is not eaten locally, it has to be picked as late as possible for export before air transportation to the consumer. Exported Pineapple is never fully ripe. Once picked, a Pineapple starts to deteriorate. It can be stored for 4-6 weeks at most.

How can you tell if a supermarket Pineapple is ripe? You pick it up and sniff it. It should smell pleasantly aromatic and sweet. There shouldn’t be any hint of fermentation.

An easier way to test for ripeness is to pull out one of the leaves from the crown. If your Pineapple is ripe, it should come away fairly easily.

Seeds and Propagation

The modern pineapple is generally seedless. I found some seeds in cutting up my Pineapple. I was not convinced that these seeds were viable. Pineapple plants are easily propagated from cuttings. However, a plant that is totally dependent on propagation is vulnerable to disease.

Bromeliad Family

Pineapple, Ananas comosus, is a member of the Bromeliaceae, Bromeliad or Pineapple Family in the Poales order. According to Kew’s Plants of the World (2017), Bromeliaceae have around 62 genera with around 3,475 species. These are sometimes further split into 8 subfamilies. Before DNA analysis, Bromeliaceae was split into 3 subfamilies. Despite dating back 100 million years, diversification is relatively recent in evolutionary terms. Satisfactory genus delimitation remains unresolved by taxonomists. The 8 proposed families are:

  • Brocchinioideae
  • Lindmanioideae
  • Tillandsioideae
  • Hechtioideae
  • Navioideae
  • Pitcairnioideae
  • Puyoideae
  • Bromelioideae

Extinction Risk

Zizka et al. published alarming figures on bromeliad species in late November 2019. They mentioned 3,503 known species, of these they considered that 81% are possibly threatened with extinction. Epiphytes are particularly at risk. They reviewed a dataset of 3,272 bromeliad species (93.4% of the family). The IUCN Red List currently only evaluates 240 Bromeliaceae species (i.e. only 6.9%).

Incomplete data is hampering conservation efforts. Fears exist that some species could go extinct before we even know about them, such is the intense human pressure on land use and unrelenting habitat loss.

Bromell

The Bromeliaceae family is named after the Swedish medical doctor and botanist, Olof Bromell or Bromelius (1639-1705). His son, Magnus Bromelius, was a prominent palaeontologist, who rose into the nobility as von Bromell. It seems that many bromeliads are at risk of going extinct like dinosaurs.

Bromelain

Ripe Pineapple contains fascinating protein-digesting enzymes called bromelain. It is found throughout the fruit, but is harvested from the leaves. Bromelain is used as a meat tenderiser, in cosmetics and as a topical medication. Davidson writes that it is so abundant and powerful that plantation and cannery workers have to wear rubber gloves to ensure that their hands are not eaten away.

Research has shown that bromelain can help to remove dead skin from burns. It does not help to treat burns or wounds. Modern science only supports a limited range of the wide medical applications suggested by traditional medicine in South and Central America. (Some research is ongoing). There is also a risk of allergic reactions in those patients sensitive to Pineapple.

Abacaxi v. Azores Pineapple

1001 Foods distinguishes between two Pineapples that you must try before you die. The Azores Pineapple resembles our photograph above. The Abacaxi is more squat in appearance and is mentioned as native to Brazil, although it spread further across the continent after domestication. The editor singles it out for an intense citric perfume and sweet flavour, best enjoyed au naturel.

Fresh Pineapple for eating after thorough botanical investigation. © Karen Netto (Andrews)

© Karen Netto (Andrews)

Previous Advent Pineapple Blog

Preston, Katherine A.& Osnas, Jean (2017): A holiday pineapple for the table. The Botanist in the Kitchen. 14 December 2017. Last accessed 18 December 2019.

References and Further Reading

Banana Link (2017): All About Pineapples. Information, Industry and Problems. Last accessed 2017.

Case, Frances (Ed.) (2008): 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die. A Global Guide to the Best Ingredients. Cassell Illustrated. London.

Davidson, Alan (2006): The Oxford Companion to Food. Second Edition. Edited by Tom Jaine. Oxford University Press.

National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (2017): Bromelain. NCCIH Publication No.: D493. Last accessed 18 December 2019.

Simpson, Michael G. (2010): Plant Systematics. Second Edition. Academic Press. Elsevier. Burlington, MA. U.S.A.

van Wyk, Ben-Erik (2005): Food Plants of the World. An illustrated guide. Timber Press.

Zizka, Alexander et al. (2019): Biogeography and conservation status of the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae). Diversity and Distributions Open Access. Biodiversity Research. A Journal of Conservation Biogeography. 23 November 2019. Wiley Online Library.

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