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Best-ever piña coladas, here we come.

By Mary Tomlinson
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Pineapples, the prickly mascot of all things tropical, are having a moment (Pink pineapples! Pineapple Christmas trees! A pineapple-themed wedding!). And while the intrigue of pastel slices and starfish-topped holiday centerpieces is undeniable, we prefer the timeless appeal of a ripe pineapple that's ready to be enjoyed. In our eyes, this symbol of hospitality is a coastal kitchen essential because, hey, you never know when the need for a fresh piña colada will strike. 

Grocery stores stock pineapples year-round, but the tropical fruit is in peak season from March through July. For all your grilling, upside down cake, and blended drink needs, here’s our essential guide for all things pineapple.

How to Tell if a Pineapple Is Ripe

Pineapples don’t ripen after they are picked, so you want to purchase them at their peak ripeness. Look for a sweet smelling, hefty fruit that has firm skin and a hue that is more yellow than green. Pulling a leaf from the crown doesn’t tell you anything about ripeness (that’s a produce wives’ tale)—just look for robust, green leaves. Avoid pineapples with blemishes, soft or mushy skin, withering leaves, and any trace of fermentation.

How to Cut a Pineapple

  1. Lay the pineapple horizontally on a cutting board. Remove 1 inch from the base and 1 inch from the leafy top with a serrated knife.
  2. Stand the fruit up vertically to peel, slicing ½ inch into the skin to remove the eyes (brown spots). Continue turning and slicing until the pineapple is peeled.
  3. From here, you can slice the pineapple a multitude of ways, depending on what you’re making:
    1. For round slices (for ham or pineapple upside down cake): Turn the pineapple on its side, then cut slices to desired thickness. Use a small, round cookie cutter to remove the core from the center of each slice.
    2. For chunks (for grilling kebabs or fried rice): Keep the pineapple upright and slice lengthwise into quarters. Slice off the tough center core of each fourth, then cut chunks to desired size.
    3. For chopped pineapple (for frozen treats and salsas): Cut into chunks, then finely chop.

If you cook with pineapples frequently, consider investing in a pineapple slicer, which whips out perfect round slices everytime. Plus, it leaves the shell intact for a lovely pineapple centerpiece!

It’s ideal to buy the pineapple the day you plan on cooking with it, but it will keep for a few days at room temperature. Once sliced, it should yield about 3 cups of pineapple and keep in the fridge for a week or so. To freeze for smoothies and frozen drinks, place chunks on a baking sheet and freeze overnight. Once frozen solid, transfer the chunks to an airtight container and return to the freezer to keep for up to 6 months.

Health Benefits of Pineapple

Aside from being a delicious tropical snack, pineapple also offers a multitude of health benefits. One cup of pineapple contains a mere 75 to 80 calories, and the fruit provides 131 percent of your daily Vitamin C—now that’s an immune system boost! Digestion also gets help from pineapple, as the fruit is naturally high in fiber and contains bromelain, an enzyme that helps you digest proteins. 

The prickly fruit is super high (75 percent DV) in manganese, an antioxidant that protects skin cells from UV damage (as if you needed another reason to eat pineapple on a sunny summer day). Long story short—pineapple is definitely good for you! 

Photo: Alison Miksch

Crazy Pineapple Facts

Before they became Instagram’s favorite breakfast bowl, pineapples were the ultimate fruit status symbol. The upper classes of 18th century England commissioned the best gardeners to grow the tropical fruit in hothouses of their own. (Check out Charles II clearly humble-bragging in this painting of his gardener offering him a pineapple.) You could even rent a pineapple for a day to show off to your dinner guests—impressive indeed!

A pineapple, though it's presented as one fruit, is actually a number of berries (up to 200 fruitlets!) fused together. After being planted, pineapples are fully grown and ready to pick after 16-30 months. 

Today, while 75 percent of the world’s pineapples are grown in Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, the exotic fruit is still associated with Hawaii—mostly due to James Drummond Dole’s 19th century pineapple empire. Today, Hawaii produces just 0.13 percent of the world’s pineapples, and focuses more on local production and individual mail order, such as from Maui Gold or Hawaiian Crown. 

Pineapple Recipes

For delicious ways to cook with pineapples, check out these fresh pineapple recipes, and some of our favorites here.

Photo: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Mary Claire Britton and Karen Rankin

Piña Colada
While the true inventor of the official drink of Puerto Rico is hotly contested—the Caribe Hilton and The Barrachina in San Juan both hang plaques claiming to be the birthplace—there’s no doubt this Tiki drink is a sip of pineapple-coconut heaven. The optional black strap rum adds a distinctive molasses note and a complexity that ups the flavor ante of this classic cocktail.

Photo: Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Pineapple-Tamarind Ham
Sweet pineapple with zingy tamarind makes for a beautifully lacquered holiday ham with just a few ingredients. Bonus: tamarind's natural acidity helps tenderize the meat, making for a juicy centerpiece.  

Photo: Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Pineapple Fried Rice with Spam, Shrimp, and Cashews
Give fried rice a salty-sweet upgrade with quintessential Hawaiian ingredients: Spam and fresh pineapple. For a real island treat, serve in scooped out pineapple halves (we recommend the super sweet Maui Gold variety, grown exclusively on the slopes of Haleakalā). 

Photo: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer; Recipe: Adam Dolge and Karen Rankin

Pineapple-Jalapeño Paletas
Cool down with this sweet-meets-spicy frozen treat. Steeping jalapenos in simple syrup is a surprising addition to these pineapple pops. But trust us, it works.