A little history: Not surprisingly, the pineapple gets its English name from the look-a-like pinecone. Non-British Europeans prefer to focus on the tantalizing flavor, instead calling it ananas, from the Paraguayan nana, which means "excellent fruit." While this centuries-old symbol of hospitality is native to South America, Hawaii is now the leading producer.
What they look like: The U.S. boasts two popular varieties, both of which are juicy and tangy-sweet, with bumpy, diamond-patterned skins. The Hawaiian version is the tall, cylindrical Cayenne―a golden-yellow pineapple with long, sword-like leaves that sprout from a single tuft. The shorter and plumper Red Spanish pineapple, usually from Florida or Puerto Rico, has reddish gold skin and leaves that sprout from several tufts. The average weight for each is between two and five pounds.
Selection tips: Choose the largest, plumpest one you can find. It should have a strong color and be slightly soft to the touch, with crisp, dark green leaves. Avoid pineapples that have soft or dark areas on the skin (which is a sign of overripeness), or yellow or brown-tipped leaves. One medium pineapple will yield about three cups of chunks.
Storage tips: These succulent tropical gems don't ripen off the plant, so those you buy will be immediately ready to eat. They can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to three days before cutting plus three more days after cutting.
How to eat one: Using a sharp knife, cut off the base and leaves, then stand the pineapple on one end and shave off strips of skin from top to bottom. To remove the eyes, cut a wedge-shaped groove on either side, taking away as little flesh as possible. To core a pineapple, cut it into quarters after peeling, then stand each one on end and cut downward to remove the core. Now, it's ready to be cut up and eaten raw (perhaps the best way of all), or used in fresh fruit salads and desserts, as garnish for meats and vegetables, or cooked into a variety of desserts. You can also grill, saute, or broil it. Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme that prevents gelatin from setting, so if you want to use it in a dish that contains gelatin, you'll need to cook the fruit first.
Peak growing season: While it's available year-round, pineapple's peak season runs from March through July.
Health benefits: Aside from the irresistible taste, there are some healthy reasons to indulge in this flavorful fruit. It's a wonderful source of vitamin C, which protects you from heart disease, cancer, and cataracts; and also contains manganese, which helps keep your bones strong. Plus, pineapple contains an enzyme that helps relieve indigestion―making it a dessert your tummy will appreciate.
Nutritional info: One delicious cup of raw pieces weighs in at 76 calories, 1.9 grams of fiber, 0.6 gram of protein, 0.7 gram of fat (none of it saturated), 2.0 milligrams of sodium, and no cholesterol.