With its unmistakable golden cone topped with spiky green leaves, the pineapple is an emblem of the tropics. First cultivated by indigenous people in South America, the pineapple caught the attention of the Europeans, who brought it around the world, from the Philippines and India to Africa and Hawaii, where it took root and flourished.
In Cuba where I'm reporting from, pineapple cultivation is on the upswing for export to Europe, supporting the incomes of farmers growing this fruit on the island. In modern times the most common variety of pineapple has been Smooth Cayenne, evidently because it's consistent cylinder shape made it well-suited for canning. Today, as fresh pineapple is in vogue, more varieties of the fruit are gaining popularity.
You would think that this fruit, bursting with sweet flavor and enchanting aroma, would have some very special nutritional qualities. And you would be right! And vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium are just the beginning. Pineapples are also packed with the enzyme bromelain, which was discovered in 1875 and takes its name from the family Bromeliaceae to which the pineapple belongs. Renowned for its ability to fight inflammation, bromelain is often called pineapple protease.
Naturally, pineapple has been prized in traditional folk medicine, which has inspired intensive nutritional study in recent decades. So what does the literature say? Here is a look at what the science has turned up on pineapples and their powerhouse enzyme: