Image from Wikimedia Commons
While sitting on the beach one warm spring break afternoon in Mexico, a curious idea popped into my head. “What is this sweet, yellow wedge on the edge of my glass?” I thought. After doing much investigation and overcoming many language barriers, I concluded that this fine delicacy was a pineapple. I then proceeded to ask about this “pineapple”, and the bartender told me this:
“Pineapples were native to Guadeloupe, but are now grown many places worldwide. Back in 1493, no one in Europe had seen pineapples, but when they were introduced in Spain, they became an instantaneous hit. The name pineapple seems a bit odd. After DNA mapping, scientist were able to conclude that pineapples are actually not very closely related to pines nor apples. It turns out that the shape looks like a pinecone, and it is sweet like an apple, thus was born the name pineapple. An interesting fact is that the “fruit” of the plant is actually a collection of berries that are fused together. The leaves seen on top are actually extensions of the stock that grew through the berries before they fused together. Also, it takes almost three years for a pineapple to fully mature. Pineapples are also one of the few fruits that do not continue to ripen once they are harvested.
Pineapple cores contain high levels of bromelain, a proteolytic enzyme, which has a whole slew of health benefits. Bromelain supplements are promoted as an alternative remedy for various health problems including joint inflammation and cancer. In some studies, it was found that bromelain could actually lessen the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients. This enzyme catalyzes a reaction that speeds up the processes of removing the inflammatory agents in regions such as the throat.
In today’s day and age, pineapples can no longer self-pollinate. Pollination is where a sperm and egg of plants come together to form a zygote. Scientists found that pineapples actually yielded many seeds when grown, which was a mess for the consumer to deal with. They found that certain pineapples that did not grow seeds had a mutation in a certain area of its DNA. They genetically altered the DNA of the pineapples to no longer produce seeds. This was a huge advantage for the consumer and for sales. Unfortunately, this now meant that the pineapple plant could only grow one pineapple before the entire field would have to be plowed and replanted.
Cross-section of a CAM Plant
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Every once in a while, people would complain of bitter pineapples. At first, it was believed that this was just the result of a cultivation error, spoiled fruit, or bad seeds. Later, as more knowledge of plants became available, it was realized that they were bitter because they were harvested in the night. Pineapple plants are CAM plants. This means that they close their stomata during the day in order to avoid losing water and other resources in the hot environment. At night, their stomata open and carbon dioxide enters and is transformed into a four-carbon acid. Then when the sun comes back up, this acid goes through the Calvin Cycle to change it into sugar for the plant. This explained everything. The pineapples harvested at night had their cells full of acid, while those harvested during the day were full of sugar, yielding a sweeter product.”
That was quite a bit of information and I was thoroughly impressed with this bartender’s knowledge. I thanked him, sipped my drink, left him a hefty tip, and wandered off with questions about mangos swimming about in my head.