The Weird Reason Why You Should Always Salt Your Pineapple
At a time when most summer fruits are reaching their peak, pineapple springs eternal. A main player in tropical drinks, fruit salads and barbecue marinades, pineapple tends to evoke carefree, sunny memories—the kind most of us are hungry for right now, and will be long after pumpkin spice takes over. But hey, even if you can't get away, you can almost always get fresh pineapple. And with this one easy hack, you can enjoy it more, too.
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Science hasn't nailed down any numbers, but for some people, eating this sweet and spiky fruit brings with it a mild tingling. You may have chalked it up to the acid or extreme sweetness of the fruit, but the real culprit is bromelain, a protein found in pineapple (and in practically no other foods we eat). "Bromelain breaks down proteins, and some people find that sensation unpleasant," says Michael Tunick, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor of culinary arts and food science at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Often, he says, people who experience the sensation may not even realize they're feeling anything abnormal.
Bromelain is what makes pineapple juice a great ingredient for marinades, since it helps tenderize meats, and a terrible ingredient for Jell-O. "It breaks down the gelatin so you're left with just a gooey mess," says Mary Ellen Camire, Ph.D., a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine in Orono, and a past president of the Institute of Food Technologists. Papain, a protein found in raw papaya, has a similar effect, which is why it's often an ingredient in meat tenderizing powders.
There is an easy solution (literally) to your pineapple problems, though: salt water. Salt triggers bromelain to begin working, so by the time the pineapple reaches your mouth, the enzyme has been inactivated, says Tunick. Dipping fresh pineapple briefly in a saltwater solution is the best way to maximize contact between salt and bromelain. While there hasn't been a lot of scientific research into the best kind of salt, the ideal ratio of salt to water, or how long pineapple should soak in the brine, my own informal tests with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt in a cup of tap water for a minute worked just fine. You don't want to go much longer than that or you'll risk affecting the taste and texture.
And yes, as you would expect, this makes your pineapple a tad salty. But salt balances the sweetness and acidity nicely. "It's a long-standing culinary tradition to salt sweet things," says Camire. "A little bit of salt helps intensifies the sweet flavor."
If you're not a fan of salted fruit, high heat also inactivates bromelain, so baking or grilling pineapple will prevent that tingling sensation (and tastes amazing in general). It's also not an issue with canned pineapple because the heat required for the canning process has the same effect, says Camire. But if you like piña coladas, this could be the trick to enjoying them even more.