Christopher Columbus introduced pineapples to Europe when he brought one as a gift to Spain's Queen Isabella from the island of Guadeloupe in 1493. Native to southern Brazil and Paraguay, pineapples were domesticated by the Indians, who carried the plant to South and Central America and the West Indies. Hawaii produces 30 percent of the world's fresh pineapples and 60 percent of its canned pineapple products, as of 2011. Also a major agricultural export of Thailand, the Philippines, Brazil and China, pineapples have been studied and cultivated to produce fruit that is nutritious, sweet and hardy enough to endure commercial handling.
"Pine of the Indies"
The Spanish, who were greatly intrigued by the exotic appearance of pineapples, first named it "Pine of the Indies" because of its resemblance to a pine cone. The word pineapple is derived from the Spanish "pina" for pine and the English "apple." The apple component to the name was added because of the pineapple's tasty fruit.
The pineapple -- whose scientific name is Ananas comosus -- is the only bromeliad that has edible fruit. The plant itself is a terrestrial herb that grows 2 to 4 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Unripe pineapple is poisonous, causing throat irritation and vomiting. Although pineapples are referred to as fruits, they are actually made up of individual berries that cluster and become fused around a central stalk. Pineapples do not self fertilize and are reproduced by means of vegetative propagation from crowns, slips or suckers. The crown is the shoot at the top of the plant, slips are the side shoots located at the bottom and suckers are side shoots that grow out from the main stem near the ground. As a tropical plant, pineapples grow best at a temperature of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Types of Pineapples
The Department of Agriculture at Purdue University lists 37 varieties -- or cultivars -- of pineapples. However, in the world of international trade, the cultivars are grouped into four main classes: Smooth Cayenne, Red Spanish, Queen and Abacaxi. The groups vary according to the pineapple's size, commercial availability and sweetness. Smooth Cayenne, the predominant pineapple grown in Hawaii and the type most likely found in American supermarkets, grows to be the largest, at 4 to 10 pounds. It has an orange rind and yellow flesh, and is known for its juiciness and slightly acid flavor. Abacaxi pineapples are known for their sweetness and resistance to disease. Its fruit can weigh 2 to 11 pounds. Many consider Abacaxi to be the most delicious pineapple, but it is too tender for commercial handling. Red Spanish is orange-red, weighs 3 to 6 pounds and is the major pineapple grown in the Caribbean. Queen is grown mostly in South Africa and Australia.
According to the Dole Encyclopedia of Fruits and Veggies, a serving of two slices of pineapple contains 25 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C. Two slices also provide 60 calories, 16 g carbohydrates and 13 g of sugar. Pineapples also contain bromelain, an enzyme that can aid digestion.