The house of the Spongebob – pineapple

Pineapple is neither pine nor apple but is a monocot plant that is also a herbaceous perennial. Scientifically referred to as Ananas comosus, pineapple is a native species of southern Brazil and Paraguay area, where the wild relatives are found, the pineapple was firstly domesticated by the Indians and carried up through South and Central America to Mexico and the West Indies long before the arrival of Europeans. The pineapple was praised by early European visitors as the finest of all fruit and shipped back to the Old World. Therefore, the use of pineapple motifs in architecture symbolizes hospitality. For instance, it is used to offer the expensive exotic to a guest as it is a great compliment. The pineapple fruit with crown intact is often used as a decoration and there are variegated forms of the plant universally grown for their showiness. It has been used as indoor ornamentals in northern cities shipped from southern Florida since 1963. It symbolized prosperity by the Chinese in the Chinese New Year.

The Ananas genus also includes several ornamental plants that make an attractive addition to subtropical and tropical gardens and is also the leading edible member of the family in Bromeliaceae, which embraces about two thousand species, mostly epiphytic and many strikingly ornamental. It is widely referred to as pina by Spanish-speaking people, abacaxi in the Portuguese tongue, ananas by the Dutch and French, and the people of former French and Dutch colonies, nanas in southern Asia and the East Indes. The Chinese call it po-lo, which means to reach the opposite shore from the Buddhist terms. Whereas, in Jamaica, it is referred to as sweet pine. Pine is often the name for it in Guatemala. Over the past one hundred years, it has become one of the leading commercial fruit crops of the tropics. The major producing countries are Hawaii, Brazil, Malaysia, Taiwan, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, and Puerto Rico. For years, Hawaii supplied 70 % of the canned pineapple and 85 % of canned pineapple juice globally. However, in 2018, world production was led by the Philippines, Brazil, and Thailand as the labor cost in the countries mentioned are much affordable as compared to Hawaii.

Pineapple has large rosettes of narrow, tapering, tough leaves with sharply toothed or spiny edges. The stem elongates and enlarges near the apex and puts forth small purple or red flowers during the blooming period. The flowers, which develop into the familiar compound fruit shape, are usually reddish-purple, each backed by a bract and borne in a crowded head at the top of a short, stout stem that emerges from the center of the leaf rosette. The leaves may be green in color or variously striped with red, yellow, or ivory down the middle or near the margins. The leaf rosettes are up to thirty inches high and four feet wide. The sword-shaped leaves are viciously edged with tiny thorns. However, crop improvement on pineapple had recently developed the smooth-leafed cultivars. It has an inflorescence up to twelve inches long with yellow to red bracts and grows up to four feet tall when in fruit. The fruit usually develops in the second year if the conditions are suitable. Commonly, a plant bears two or three heads or as many as twelve fused instead of the normal one. Moreover, crop improvement had made interesting cultivars like ‘Porteanus’ has leaves with a central yellow stripe, ‘Variegatus’ that has leaves with marginal cream stripes and may develop red tints. Other varieties are also found, such as ‘Hilo’ in Hawaii, ‘St. Michael’ in the Azores, ‘Giant Kew’ and ‘Charlotte Rothschild’ in India, ‘Perolera’ in Venezuela, ‘Bumanguesa’ in Venezuela and Colombia, and ‘Monte Lirio’ in Mexico and Central America and many more varieties through tropical and subtropical countries.

The red pineapple, or simply known as wild pineapple, is scientifically known as Ananas bracteatus. It is three feet tall species (approximately one meter) with basal leaves sharing common morphology as common pineapple. The leaf edges and the floral, as well as fruiting parts, usually develop pink tints. Red bracts partially enclose a summer-borne inflorescence about six inches long, which has lavender to red color. The small and orange fruit rarely reached edible size but is an interesting feature. The cultivar “tricolor” is how this species is usually grown with leaves edges and striped creamy white. A tough and waxy rind that is made up of hexagonal units, which may be dark-green, yellow, orange-yellow, or reddish color when the fruit is ripe. At the same time, the flesh ranges from nearly white to yellow.

As tropical fruit, all pineapple species are frost tender and can only be grown in the tropics and subtropical regions. However, they can be grown as indoor or conservatory plants in the cooler region provided with a strong light source. Pineapple is usually planted in full sun with fertile and well-drained soil. They are usually propagated from the basal sucker that develops on mature rosettes. The new growths are known as offshoots, called “slips” that emerged from the stem around the base of the fruit and shoots to grow in the axils of the leaves. There are two types of suckers, the aerial suckers that arise from the base of the plant at ground level, and basal suckers or “ratoons” that preceding later from the stolons beneath the soil. Alternatively, the leafy crowns or “tops” of the fruit can be removed and treated as a cutting by rooting it in soil or water. If the flowers are pollinated, small and hard seeds may be obtained. However, because hummingbirds are the principal pollinators, seed formation is not guaranteed and may result in undeveloped seeds. The seeds are desired only in breeding programs and are usually the result of hand pollination. However, the seeds are often hard and slow to germinate. Treatment with sulfuric acid has proved to enhance the germination rate up to 75 to 90 %. Nowadays, it is commonly propagation on a large scale through clonal propagation, which is plant tissue culture due to the increasing demand.

Modern agriculture including precision farming, mechanical planting, automated fertilization, and irrigation has greatly increased the efficiency in the pineapple plantation. In terms of harvesting, it is difficult to tell if it is ready to be harvested. Therefore, it either depends on the experience of the grower or relies on robots with artificial intelligence. Because the starch’s conversion into sugar takes place rapidly in just a few days before full maturity. Generally, the summer crop is harvested when the “eye” shows a light pale green color.  It can be used in fresh consumption by removing the crown, rind, eyes, and core or be processed into dessert or in salads. With drying technology, it is made into downstream products like dried pineapple as a snack, pulp, concentrated frozen pulp, frozen slides, fruit squashes, concentrated frozen juices, jelly, can candies, etc. Besides, it is cooperated into pies, puddings, or as a garnish on ham or made into sauces, jams, or preserved. Malayans utilize the pineapple in curries and various meat dishes.

Although a delicious fruit, when unripe, pineapple is inedible and poisonous might be causing irritation in the throat or gastrointestinal dysfunction. Excessive consumption of pineapple cores leads to the formation of fiber balls, known as bezoars in the digestive tract. Pineapple plays an essential role in the culinary aspect. Bromelain, a proteolytic enzyme derived from pineapple juice is useful to tenderize the meat and chill proofing beer and gelatin to increase its solubility for drinking. Therefore, we feel hurtful during the consumption of other food after eating pineapple. This is because pineapple is “eating” us while we are eating it. The enzyme tenderizes our tongue creating “wounds” that cause extra sensitivity to stimuli brought by consuming other food. Traditionally, pineapple juice is taken as a diuretic and to expedite labor, which is also used as a gargle in cases of sore throat and an antidote for seasickness. Pineapple is employed as a digestive fruit and used for anti-inflammatory after surgery and reduces swelling in cases of physical injuries.

Pineapple has been famous due to the brainwashing song by Pikotaro called PPAP (Pen Pineapple Apple Pen). Now the new trend is the pink pineapple, which not only looks cool but also a product of GMOs. The pink pineapple contains lycopene, a natural pigment that attributes to the pink appearance. They have fewer bromelain enzymes that reduce the tongue burn and in fact, it is much sweeter compared to the conventional pineapple. It often considered as faked photoshop pictures when posted on social media such as Instagram, however, it’s the product of crop improvement by scientists. This “Rosé” pineapple variety is developed and patented by Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. and finally approved in 2013 by Food and Drug Administration. It is not yet popularized worldwide due to the limited production, thus is highly valued by the market and one pink pineapple would approximately cost 50 USD. It is probably being used in high-end fine dining. Would you willing to try this new pink pineapple despite its cost?

Further reading:

Morton, J. F. (1987). Fruits of warm climates. JF Morton.

Ploetz, R. C. (2003). Diseases of Tropical Fruit Crops

Siddiq, M., Ahmed, J., Lobo, M. G., & Ozadali, F. (2012). Tropical and Subtropical Fruits – Postharvest physiology, processing and packaging.