Why Does Pineapple Make Your Tongue Burn?

Why Does Pineapple Make Your Tongue Burn?
Image: iStock/Oleksii Polishchuk

If you’ve ever sunk your teeth into a zesty chunk of pineapple, you’ll know that before too long the pineapple bites back. Not in a literal way, of course, but it has its revenge in the form of an all-over mouth tingle that verges on burning territory.

It puts a damper on fruit salad and leaves your tongue feeling desiccated for hours afterwards — but why? Why does one yellow-fleshed fruit seemingly have the power to crack your tastebuds wide open?

Why pineapple burns your tongue

Some people think it’s down to the food’s acidic content, but that isn’t entirely true. Yes, acid plays its role, but the main culprit is something else entirely.

You can blame your tingly tongue on an enzyme called bromelain.

Bromelain is a protein-digesting enzyme, or protease, which explains why it feels like it attacks your mouth after consuming foods that contain it.

Its role in the body is to break down amino acids, so when it comes into contact with your mouth it creates irritation by dissolving some of your oral mucous. When it’s done with your mucous, it goes for your tongue tissue. Combine that dissolution with the fruit’s acid content and things start to feel even more tingly.

That’s not to say that bromelain is a bad thing, mind you. It’s actually used for a number of medicinal purposes, including the reduction of nasal swelling and inflammation — it’s just not something you want hanging around your mouth, according to a study by Biotechnology Research International.

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How to make pineapple not burn your tongue

If you’re looking to avoid the sensation, there are a few things you can do. Cooking pineapple will reduce its bromelain content (thanks to a hit of thermal processing), and if you prefer it cold you can pair it with yoghurt to tempt the protease with another protein — better it than you, AND it tastes delicious.

Another thing to bear in mind is that pineapple is highest in bromelain concentration near the stem, so if you eat the flesh on the outside you’re less likely to cop it.

Allegedly, soaking pineapple in salty water can reduce the effect (according to a local’s handy hint on Netflix’s hit cooking show ‘Ugly Delicious‘), but the claim is not yet substantiated so it’s more of an old wives tale. But hey, if you think it’s worth a shot, give it a go!

And if you’re in the throes of full-blown tongue tissue torment?

Rest assured that your cells regenerate at a fast enough rate that you won’t be left with a tongue that resembles cracked earth. Just wait it out and you’ll be as sweet as the very fruit that betrayed you in the first place.

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