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It’s hard to get fresh fruits this time of year. The selection at the grocery store is limited and the prices seem to be going up each week.
For a special treat and a little variety, you may want to try a pineapple. If you can’t find fresh, it’s always available in the canned fruit section.
Although available year round, the peak season for Hawaiian pineapple is late spring into summer and Caribbean pineapples have two seasons: December through February and August through September.
How do you pick a good fresh pineapple? Despite all old wives tales, pulling a leaf out of the crown doesn’t really tell you if a pineapple is ripe or not. Like many other fruits, if pineapples have not started to ripen on the plant, they will not continue to ripen after being picked. Also, color is not a good indicator on a pineapple; some can be green and still ripe.
Pineapples should be firm and not soft or spongy. There should be no bruises or mold and dark soft spots on the skin are signs of over-ripeness. Avoid fruit with dry, yellow or brown-tipped leaves; this is a sure sign of age. The smell may be the best way to tell if a pineapple is ripe. Make sure it smells sweet, fresh and ripe. If it smells fermented, like alcohol or vinegar, it is too ripe.
When selecting a pineapple, choose the largest and plumpest one you can find. The average size pineapple will weigh 2-5 pounds. Once you get the pineapple home, eat it as soon as possible. They can be stored at room temperature for a few days.
One medium pineapple should give you about 2-1/2 to 3 cups of chunks. Once cut, store in the refrigerator for three to five days. Cover tightly so it doesn’t pick up other flavors from foods in the refrigerator.
My sister recently showed me a pineapple corer she purchased at a specialty food store for about $10. Lots of grocery stores have machines that will core and cut a fresh pineapple. Either way, do-it-yourself or at a store, you get the solid core out of the center and the prickly skins cut away.
Some people say don’t use these kitchen gadgets because it wastes some of the fruit. Personally, I think it’s a trade-off. Yes, it wastes a little of the pineapple, but would I eat it if I had to work harder to get to the fruit?
Commercially, this fruit is not wasted. Pineapple manufacturers use the parts attached to the skin after mechanical coring for crushed pineapple, juice, nectar and marmalade. At home, it’s harder to make use of the little bits.
If you do want to do it yourself, there are several ways to manage a pineapple. One recommended method is to lay the pineapple on its side and slice it like a loaf of bread. Then peel and core each slice like you would an apple.
Another method is to cut off the top and bottom of the pineapple. Stand it upright and slice the skin off using a knife. Dig out any excess eyes left in the flesh with a vegetable peeler. The center core was originally the flower stalk on the plant and is tough and fibrous and not edible and needs to be removed.
Nutritionally pineapples are full of vitamin C. One cup has about 80 calories and almost two grams of fiber. Pineapples are low in sodium and contain neither fat nor cholesterol.
Pineapples also contain a protein-digesting enzyme called bromelain, which some say has anti-inflammatory properties. Current research studies have not proved that eating pineapple or taking bromelain supplements help decrease inflammation.
Bromelain is the ingredient that helps to tenderize meats when pineapple juice is used as a marinade. This only works with fresh pineapple, because the enzyme is destroyed in cooked or canned pineapple. It’s also because of this enzyme that gelatin made with fresh pineapple will not set up.
Fresh pineapple can be pricey, but this is the time of the year to look for your best deals. Other times of the year, canned pineapple is readily available for a reasonable price. Select pineapple canned in its own juice or in water to reduce the added sugar calories.
Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.