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The pineapple, known in Malay as nanas, is a tropical fruit that has come a long way to the shelves of supermarkets in the west.
Pineapple plant growing in Malaysia
Photo by Izham Khalid
It has many uses: its sweet and sour taste give the user enough flexibility to use the fruit either in a dessert or cake, or in curry. Pineapple was also popular as a meat tenderiser. Nowadays, pineapples are eaten fresh or can be bought canned or juiced, and are often found in 'fruit cocktails' in supermarkets.
Photo by Taufiq Wan
In Malaysia, people from an older generation still remember using pineapple as a substitute for soap to wash away fatty oils from their hands, especially during wedding feasts. As people traditionally eat using their right hand, and because dishes served during a wedding were often very rich and greasy, after eating guests would crush cut-up pieces of pineapple in their hands, which would help wash the grease away.
A popular Malaysian salad dish is rojak, made from pineapple with pieces of guava, mangos and cucumber, mixed with a generous hot rojak sauce. Another commonly-found dish is pajeri, a spicy vegetarian dish of pineapple curry. Pineapple can also be pickled.
As a sweet, the pineapple can be made into jelly, puddings and jams. During the Eid or Hari Raya celebrations at the end of the Muslim fasting month, pineapple jam tarts are one of the most popular festive foods. The pineapple contains citric acid, and is high in vitamins B1, B2, B6 and C. It contains an enzyme called bromelain that helps digestion. In Malaysia, women in their early pregnancies are advised not to eat pineapples as it is believed that it could induce miscarriage, and by the same token, when a baby is overdue, pregnant women are advised to eat pineapple as it can induce childbirth.
In the Philippines, the leaves of the pineapple plant are used as a source of a textile fibre called pina, which is used to make the national dress for both men and women. According to fashion designer Maria Maita Fernandez, pina weaving is an age-old tradition in the Philippines, and she herself designs wedding clothes made from pina cloth.
Text by Nur Hannah Wan; photos by Taufiq Wan
Telephone interview with Maria Maita Fernandez, 13 December 2010
Interview with Tuk Din of Tuk Din’s Flavours of Malaysia restaurant