Bromelain is an extract derived from the stems of pineapples, although it exists in all parts of the fresh plant and fruit, which has many uses. The extract has a history of folk and modern medicinal use. As a supplement it is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects. Bromelain also contains chemicals that might interfere with the growth of tumour cells and slow blood clotting, but there is no peer-reviewed research showing any efficacy against tumours. As a culinary ingredient it is used primarily as a tenderiser.
The term “bromelain” may refer to either of two protease enzymes extracted from the plants of the family, Bromeliaceae, or it may refer to a combination of those enzymes along with other compounds produced in an extract.
The US National Institute of Health rates bromelain as only possibly effective against osteoarthritis, but only when taken in combination with trypsin and rutin (Phlogenzym). The same institute has stated that it is possibly ineffective for preventing post-exercise muscle tiredness. In addition, there is no evidence to rate the effectivity of the product for any other disorder.
Pineapples have a long tradition as a medicinal plant among the natives of South and Central America. The first isolation of bromelain was recorded by the Venezuelan chemist Vicente Marcano in 1891 from the fruit of pineapple. In 1892, Chittenden, assisted by Joslin and Meara, investigated the matter fully (Trans. Conn. Acad. Arts Sci. 8, 281-308), and called it ‘bromelin’. Later, the term ‘bromelain’ was introduced and originally the term was applied to any protease from any member of the plant family Bromeliaceae.
Bromelain was first introduced as a therapeutic supplement in 1957. First, research on bromelain was conducted in Hawaii, but more recently has been conducted in countries in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Recently, researchers in Germany have taken a great interest in bromelain research. Currently, Bromelain is the thirteenth most widely used herbal medicine in Germany.
Bromelain is present in all parts of the pineapple plant (Ananas sp.), however, the stem is the most common commercial source, presumably because large quantities are readily available after the fruit has been harvested.
Uses of Bromelain
Potential Medical Uses
Available in some countries as a product under the name ‘Ananase’, bromelain began its reputation for various uses in folk medicine and continues to be explored as a potential healing agent in alternative medicine. First introduced in medical research in 1957, bromelain may work by blocking some pro-inflammatory metabolites when applied topically. Bromelain may be used after surgery to reduce swelling. Preliminary research indicates that bromelain may affect migration of neutrophils to sites of acute inflammation.
As a potential anti-inflammatory agent, it may be useful for treating arthritis, but has neither been confirmed in human studies for this use, nor is it approved with a health claim for such an effect by the Food and Drug Administration or European Food Safety Authority. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database suggests that bromelain, when used in conjunction with trypsin and rutin is as effective as some prescription analgesics in the management of osteoarthritis.
Bromelain has not been scientifically proven to be effective in any other diseases and it has not been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of any other disorder.
Systemic enzyme therapy (consisting of combinations of proteolytic enzymes such as bromelain, trypsin, chymotrypsin, and papain) has been investigated in Europe to evaluate the efficacy of proteolytic enzymes in the treatment of breast, colorectal, and plasmacytoma cancer patients. In mice with experimental colitis, 6 months of dietary bromelain from pineapple stem or from fresh juice decreased the severity of colonic inflammation and reduced the number of cancerous lesions in the colon.
Bromelain supplements may increase the risk associated with heart rate, blood clotting and bleeding post-surgery.
Along with Papain, bromelain is one of the most popular substances to use for meat tenderising.
Today, about 90% of meat tenderiser is used in consumer households. Bromelain is sold in a powdered form, which is combined with a marinade, or directly sprinkled on the uncooked meat. The enzyme will penetrate the meat and, by a process called forking, cause the meat to become tender and palatable when cooked. If the enzyme is allowed to work for too long, however, the meat may become too “mushy” for the preferences of many consumers.
Cooked or canned pineapple does not have a tenderising effect, as the enzymes are heat-labile and destroyed in the cooking process.
Some prepared meat products, such as meatballs and commercially available marinades, include pineapple and/or pineapple-derived ingredients.
Apart from the mushiness of meat that has been over-tenderised, the activity of bromelain and similarly proteolytic plant enzymes may be undesirable where it is inappropriate. In dishes that depend on their protein content for important attributes, uncooked pineapple or its juice may be a nuisance. For example, some dishes such as brawn and jelly rely on the setting of gelatine. They will not set if they contain raw pineapple or pineapple juice. Raw figs, papaya, and similarly proteolytic vegetable matter causes similar problems. To prevent the incompatibility with gelatine problem, the fresh fruit should be cooked, or at least parboiled, sufficiently to inactivate the enzymes before using in such dishes. In general, thorough heating to above about 65°C will suffice. This problem does not affect dishes based on non-proteinaceaous gelling agents, such as agar, although such agents may be prevented from gelling by too much heating in acid recipes.