Healing Kitchen

Doling Out the Bromelain
The pineapple plant contains protein-digesting enzymes called, as a group, bromelain. In the health world, these enzymes are regarded as useful in reducing muscle and tissue inflammation (hence the joint pain and wound-healing possibilities), as well as acting as a digestive aid. In the cooking world, on the other hand, bromelain is regarded as the enemy of the gelatin dessert. If you use fresh pineapple in gelatin, the enzyme eats the protein and the gelatin will not gel--in fact bromelain is measured in units called GDUs, or gelatin dissolving units. The classic kitchen trick for getting around this pineapple-gelatin incompatibility is to cook the pineapple, thus reducing the power of the bromelain.

So, when we set out to develop recipes that would highlight the benefits of bromelain, we realized that we had to start with fresh pineapple (which has twice to three times the amount of bromelain as canned), and then subject it to as little heat as possible.

The Recipes
What better place to start than with a fresh pineapple salsa? No cooking, just sweet and tangy fruit and lots of bromelain. We added fennel and basil for a licorice-like undertone and cherry tomatoes for a burst of almost fruit-like sweetness. And voila: Fresh Pineapple-Fennel Salsa for broiled chicken. The salsa inspired Double Pineapple Sauce (after all, salsa does mean sauce). Years ago we had had a blueberry sauce where some of the berries were cooked and some were raw and the sauce tasted intensely of blueberries. So, why not try it with pineapple? Juice, rice syrup, pineapple and spices get cooked until thick and syrupy. No further cooking necessary--fresh pineapple chunks are added and the sauce is ready. And although pineapple juice is cooked, it still starts out with 230 GDUs of bromelain per cup. Honey-Broiled Pineapple, the final recipe, is simplicity itself. Drizzled with honey and lightly broiled, the sweet pineapple flavors are accentuated. Mint and sweet cardamom flavor the cool, creamy sauce that goes with the broiled pineapple.

Pineapple Tips
Did your aunt Lena tell you to test the ripeness of a pineapple by pulling out a pineapple leaf? Well forget about it. Instead, smell it. It should smell slightly sweet and like a pineapple. If it doesn't smell like a pineapple, taking it home to let it "ripen" will not further the cause, because pineapples do not get any riper once they've been picked. So if it doesn't smell ripe at the store, don't buy it. (Premium pineapples are a pretty sure bet to be ripe, however, which is why they tend to be costly.)

To prepare the pineapple for cooking, first remove the crown (leafy top): No need to cut the top off, just grab it and twist it off. Then to peel it, stand the pineapple upright and use a sturdy chef's knife to cut down to remove the skin and eyes.

At this point, most people would remove the pineapple's core (the woody center section). This is kind of up to you (and your guests, if you're cooking for others). The core actually has some flavor and fiber--and, we're assuming, bromelain. So, you can leave the core in and let people either eat it or eat around it. And if the recipe calls for chopped pineapple, you can mince the core along with the rest of the pineapple.

The Bromelain Scorecard
By the best of our calculations, a serving of any one of the following recipes should give you between 400 and 600 GDUs of bromelain. The actual bromelain content is somewhat elusive, since it depends on the ripeness of the fruit, how much heat it is subjected to, and for how long.

Author: Sandra Rose Gluck
Date Published: 01/04/2000
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