Ananas is the name of a genius of bromeliad plants that includes the pineapple, Ananas comosus. The word "ananas" also is used as the word for pineapple fruit in some languages, including Dutch and French. It also is known by that name to many residents of former Dutch and French colonial holdings. It became known as the pineapple because of the fruit's resemblance to a pine cone.
This fruit originated in an area that now spans southern Brazil and Paraguay. The term "ananas" comes from the word anana, and means "excellent fruit" in the language of the Tupi, native to the region. The plant is herbaceous and can reach a height of 5 feet (1.5 m) and can grow 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) wide. It has long, strap-like, pointed leaves, much like a yucca or aloe plant.
Pineapples already were known to many peoples of South, Central, and Latin America when the first European explorers reached those areas and even was known in the West Indies. It is believed that Christopher Columbus and his men were the first Europeans to see the fruit when they encountered it on the island of Guadaloupe in 1493. It quickly was spread by European colonial powers to much of the tropical and subtropical areas of the world, and by the late 1700s, it was being cultivated in greenhouses in France and England.
Ananas or pineapples are now cultivated all over the world, and they are one of the most important fruit crops raised in tropical and subtropical areas, with great amounts of land dedicated to their cultivation. There are dozens of varieties, categorized into four main groups. Smooth cayenne is a type used mainly for canning, and the red Spanish variety that is popular in the Caribbean is grown mainly for the fresh fruit market. The queen variety, another fresh market type, is common in the Philippines, Australia and South Africa. Abacaxi, considered by some to be the most delicious pineapple, is common in Brazil and Florida.
The Ananas comosus fruit is used for many other purposes besides human consumption. Byproducts of processing, including crowns not saved for propagation, as well as old plants sometimes are made into feed for various livestock. The plants themselves yield bromelain, an enzyme similar to papain derived from papaya fruit. It is used as a meat tenderizer, as a food additive, in the leather tanning industry and to stabilize latex paints. In certain areas of the world, some types of the plant are grown especially for a fiber derived from the leaves of the plant that is made into thread, cloth, fishnets and is used in the making of cigars.
Among medicinal plants, Ananas comosus has great value. Bromelain is used in modern medicine as an aid to digestion and as an anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling agent. Many peoples of the world also use various parts of the plant in folk medicine. Unripe fruits are toxic and used as a purgative and a treatment for intestinal worms. The juice is gargled as a treatment for sore throat, and powdered root is used to treat edema. Many other uses in folk medicine are known.