The Famous Pineapple Enzyme
Although you may not actually hear the term "pineapple enzyme" thrown around a lot, you might recognize it by its other name: bromelain. Bromelain is a protease enzyme that is found in all parts of the pineapple, but the stem contains the largest concentration of the enzyme. So, what does "protease enzyme" really mean? This is simply a term applied to enzymes that have the specific trait of being able to break down, or "digest", proteins. To put it into a better perspective, we are going to look at the top uses that make this pineapple enzyme so coveted.
This first use may seem a little funny, but it's one of the top uses for bromelain--and one that you are likely to try out yourself simply from pure curiosity. Bromelain can be purchased in a powdered form to be used as steak tenderizer. No joke! Living cells contain compounds known as amino acids. These amino acids work hard to join together creating what is essentially a peptide bond. These peptide bonds play a huge role in the structure of tissues. Because the pineapple enzyme bromelain breaks down these peptide bonds by separating and digesting the amino acids, the structural integrity of the tissues degrade. In simple terms: bromelain tenderizer + meat = tender, juicy meat! You have to be careful when using meat tenderizers as they can cause the meat to lose too much consistency and turn mushy if left too long. Just follow the directions on any bromelain-based meat tenderizer and you'll be chowing down on a steak fit for a king--without having to bust out that medieval looking meat mallet!
Another popular use for the pineapple enzyme is for digestive aid. Because bromelain is well known for its ability to break down proteins, studies are being conducted to determine whether this enzyme could be the answer for people with digestive issues. Although formal testing has not produced much hard evidence either proving or disproving this theory, several manufactures offer bromelain in a capsule form with claims that it can help treat bloating, gas, and even irritable bowel syndrome. The purchase trend for this form of bromelain has grown rapidly over recent years, so there may actually be some truth to the claim. I wouldn't recommend jumping on the wagon straight away, though, as we still don't know what the long-term effects are.
Yet another "up-in-the-air" claim is that bromelain can reduce the swelling, inflammation, and bruising that can result from injuries or surgery. Bromelain wouldn't be applied directly to the injured area, but studies have suggested that the regular consumption of bromelain supplements can speed up the initial recovery process. It must seem pretty promising because this technique has been approved for use in Germany since 1993.
There are some known risks about bromelain supplements that you should be aware of if you are thinking about taking them. Diarrhea, nausea, and upset stomach are fairly common if bromelain is taken on a regular basis. Other reports suggest that vomiting, drowsiness or sluggishness, and heavy bleeding during menstruation. Anyone with an allergy to pineapple should definitely stay away from products containing bromelain, as they are likely to experience an allergic reaction to the enzyme.
It is recommended that people with peptic ulcers or people who are taking any kind of prescription medication consult their doctor before taking bromelain supplements. Bromelain supplements have not been proven safe for consumption by pregnant or breastfeeding women, or for children. So, while this pineapple enzyme makes a killer steak tenderizer, its safety and usefulness towards health issues is simply unconfirmed and should be used with caution--preferably under the supervision of a doctor.