Australian shoppers know that every October, retailers roll out their Halloween merchandise and pumpkins. But they might be a bit perplexed to see pineapples joining the ranks of “spooky” food in major grocery stores.
This pairing is part harvest timing, and part marketing by the growers. Australia produces approximately 35m pineapples a year and most of these are grown in Queensland.
However, in the last two years, the demand for the fresh fruit has declined. Grower Ben Clifton from Tropical Pines estimates that 70% of the demand for fresh pineapples comes from households while 30% comes from cruise ships, hotels and bars. With the extended lockdown in parts of the country and no international tourists, that 30% segment has reduced considerably.
“There’s something about pineapples that make people feel like they’re on a tropical holiday. Fresh pineapples taste great in cocktails and salads. It’s also used as décor on hotel buffet tables or food display areas, which is why people associate it with a getaway,” he says.
In fact, in 17th century England pineapples were a symbol of wealth because of their rarity. Those who could not afford to display it at their dinner parties would rent the fruit. Much has changed since then. In modern-day Australia, a “topless” fresh pineapple retails at $2.50-$4.00. This is a 10%-40% drop since April 2020, which is linked to the declining demand from the tourism sector.
So, it is up to households to mop up the excess fresh pineapples. But how do we pick out a ripe pineapple? Unlike mangos or avocados, we cannot look at the colour or press the skin to gauge the ripeness.
MasterChef Australia alumna Sarah Tiong, the author of the cookbook Sweet, Savory, Spicy, provides a handy guide for novices: “The first thing to do is hold the pineapple at arm’s length and smell the aroma. If it doesn’t smell like anything, it won’t taste like anything. If it is ripe, the skin should have some orange tones and you should be able to easily pull out the leaves from the crown.”
Six ways with pineapples
Tiong recommends grilled pineapples paired with pantry staples for a savoury option. “When you grill most food, it will caramelise and the sugar in pineapples will become more prominent than the acidity. You can experiment and pair it with chilli, lime, fish sauce. It’s a great side for roast pork or chicken,” she suggests. Cooking time may vary based on how thickly your fruit is sliced, but Tiong says it is ready to eat when you can easily pierce a fork through the fruit slices.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s take on the dish sees large vertical slices slathered in aleppo chilli salt, and served with coconut yoghurt.
Roberta Vital, a Brazilian home cook living in Australia, grills pineapples as a simple dessert. “In Brazil, we grill the pineapple slices with cinnamon and brown sugar for dessert after a heavy barbecue meal.”
Pineapple tarts are a popular snack during lunar new year in Malaysia and Singapore, but they can be time consuming to make. For a simpler option, Tiong suggests sauteing one cup of pineapple chunks with 25g of brown butter and star anise for three to four minutes on medium heat, to use as filling for ready-made puff pastry. Just wait for the mixture to cool, then pour on top of the puff pastry and bake according to the directions on the packet until it is golden brown.
Another MasterChef Australia alumna and cook Minoli De Silva recommends using pineapples to make granita. “Juice and freeze the pineapple, then eat it with sliced mango or coconut ice cream. You can pair it with most tropical flavours and it will work.”
De Silva also uses pineapples to make acharu, a south Asian pickle. Most households would have their own version, but the common components are pineapples, with elements to add acidity and spice. “I make acharu with lime, chilli, salt, red onions and mustard seed because I personally like mustard seeds,” she says. “You can throw in some carrots there too.”
Pineapples also make great marinade for meat dishes. As Tiong explains, the acid from the pineapple tenderises the meat and gives it a sweet flavour when cooked.
Palisa Anderson’s marinade with pineapples, mirin and soy sauce works with pork, beef, lamb or goat.
Pineapples are often used as cocktail mixers and piña colada is a classic, but pineapple can also be a fermented drink or cider on its own.
Clifton is thrilled that people are finding new and innovative ways to use pineapples. Still, he’s not sure about pineapple ciders. “I tried making it, but could never get the right taste profile. I’ll leave it to the experts and stick to what I know best. Growing pineapples!”
For a low-risk, low-waste option, try tepache: a Mexican drink that uses the pineapple’s top, skin and fibrous core – all the parts that we would typically discard.