What's So Weird About Pineapples? Everything.

We traveled to Kauai, Hawaii a few years ago, and one of the activities we did was visit the Kilohana Plantation. We took a train ride around the estate and the guide shared facts about the vegetation cultivated there. One such fact was that pineapple plants take approximately two years to grow and produce a fruit, and will only produce one fruit in its life.

We were shocked. How can commercial pineapple growers make any money off of such an inefficient crop!

I recently researched more about the pineapple and found that its slow lifestyle is not the only thing that's weird about this exotic fruit.

 Pineapple farming at the Kilohana Plantation in Kauai, HW.

Pineapple farming at the Kilohana Plantation in Kauai, HW.

Why does pineapple have such a weird name?

Yes, the pineapple—otherwise known as "ananas" in just about every other language—does bear its English name because someone in the 17th century thought it like a pinecone.

Why does it look so weird?

The pineapple fruit we know and love isn't really one fruit, but multiple fruits merged together. So really, I think a more appropriate name for it would be a pineberry. Unlike the raspberry which is an "aggregate fruit"—one flower containing multiple ovaries that each produce a drupelet which later merges with its neighboring drupelets to form one raspberry—the pineapple is a "multiple fruit"—multiple flowers each with one ovary that produce one berry which later merges with its neighboring berries to form one pineapple.

 A flowering pineapple. Image credit: Flickr user rusty_clark, CC BY 2.0.

A flowering pineapple. Image credit: Flickr user rusty_clark, CC BY 2.0.

Why does eating pineapple make my tongue feel so weird?

Raw pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme mixture good at breaking down protein. It's what makes pineapple so great in a marinade as it helps tenderize meat. It's also what makes your mouth feel weird after eating pineapple—the bromelain broke down some of the soft tissue in your mouth. So basically, as you eat your pineapple, your pineapple is eating you.

And don't throw in raw pineapple chunks in Jello either, bromelain will break down the gelatin and your Jello won't solidify into its trademark jiggliness.

Bromelain is a fragile thing, though...it doesn't survive any kind of serious heat. So if you don't like your mouth feeling tingly, eat it from a can or throw a fresh slice on the grill.

 Image credit: Flickr user garryknight, CC BY 2.0.

Image credit: Flickr user garryknight, CC BY 2.0.

Grow this weird fruit at home

Pineapple plants like well-draining soil and have a small root system, so they can survive as potted plants. Plus, although new pineapple plants grow fastest from suckers and slips, it is possible to grow a fruit-producing pineapple plant from a store-bought pineapple.

Cut and eat your store-bought pineapple as usual, but save its green leafy crown. Trim as much of the fruit away from the crown as possible, and stick the base of the crown in the dirt. Voila, you are now a pineapple farmer! Place the pot outdoors if you live in a warm area without frost, or indoors by a sunny window if you don't. The top will grow into a plant and, eventually, sprout a new fruit! Just be ready to be patient, because pineapple.

 Pineapple with multiple slips. Image credit: Flickr user celebdu, CC BY 2.0.

Pineapple with multiple slips. Image credit: Flickr user celebdu, CC BY 2.0.

References and further reading:

Pineapple, Oxford Dictionary.

Pineapple. Wikipedia.

Growing Pineapple. Tropical Permaculture.

Home Fruit Producation—Pineapple. Julian W. Sauls, professor & extension horticulturist, Texas A&M University.

Why Can't You Put Pineapple Pieces Into Jello? UCSB Science Line.