Tropical punch

Here’s Why Pineapple Burns Your Tongue When You Eat It

A plant-irritant expert explains what’s going on—and how you can prevent it.
A whole pineapple plus some sliced pineapple on a yellow background.
Alfred Evelina/Getty Images

Digging into some juicy pineapple is one of my favorite summer pastimes. I’d like to eat an entire bowl of it—and then go back for another serving and maybe even a third. What’s holding me back? I mostly limit myself because anytime I devour the tangy fruit, it triggers the most annoying stinging sensation on my tongue.

And I know I’m not alone; I’ve come across countless videos of people sharing similar tingly experiences. Most often, they blame a pesky enzyme in pineapple as the main cause of all that suffering. But recently I stumbled across another possibility: A TikTok claiming that tiny, irritating shards found in the fruit’s flesh are actually the real culprit.

Shocking, right? I was skeptical, since you obviously can’t believe everything you see online. So I decided to connect with an expert to figure out what’s really happening—and if there’s a way I can live out my pineapple-eating dreams annoyance-free.

First of all, does pineapple really contain tiny shards?

Figuring out whether this is true or not was my first order of business, because, well, the thought of eating sharp fragments is pretty alarming.

Turns out, it is true, but it’s not as dramatic as it sounds. The “spikes” in question are called raphides. They’re sharp needle-like crystals made of the mineral calcium oxalate (the same substance that forms kidney stones) that serve as the fruit’s natural defense of sorts, Michael P. Sheehan, MD, an adjunct clinical assistant professor of dermatology who specializes in plant irritant allergies at Indiana University School of Medicine, tells SELF. Pineapples can’t just run away anytime a predator (okay, me) tries to prey on them, so over time they developed a protective mechanism that triggers an expulsion of pricks, Dr. Sheehan says.

Other produce like kiwis, spinach, and rhubarb also have raphides, which may explain why some people feel a similar irritation after eating them too.

The good news is, those spikes are so microscopic that you can only see them under special equipment. That means they’re not hearty enough to inflict serious harm to a human mouth, but they can do some damage to insects like baby moths. It still doesn’t mean people are in the clear, though. Raphides can cause microscopic abrasions to tongues and the insides of cheeks, Dr. Sheenan says. Then, when the tangy, acidic juice from the pineapple seeps into those tiny microabrasions, you feel that tingly, burning sensation.

So what about that enzyme?

Okay, the tiny shards theory checks out. Does that mean the tingly enzyme hypothesis is bogus?

Nope. Bromelain—an enzyme found in pineapple that helps disintegrate protein—also plays a role in irritating your tongue, Dr. Sheehan says. Your mouth can’t handle the chemical as well as your GI tract can: Bromelain breaks down proteins that are part of the mucus lining on your cheek, which wears away at the protective barrier. This allows the acidity from the pineapple to get in and cause an annoying tingly sensation.

It’s actually more of a one-two punch: The tiny raphides make microabrasions in your mouth, which provides an entry point for the bromelain to better do its breakdown, Dr. Sheehan says. Basically, it’s a tag team working together to make your pineapple-eating experience not so fun.

One quick thing: Though you might be aggravated by bromelain, the enzyme can also provide some health benefits. It can act as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, for example, and it may even help speed along the healing process after injury or surgery, Dr. Sheehan says. So we can’t hate on it too much.

Is the burning sensation with pineapple dangerous?

The irritation isn’t anything to worry about, but a food allergy—which, yes, you can have to pineapple—can be serious, Dr. Sheehan says.

So how can you tell the difference? If the only symptoms you experience after eating the fruit is an irritated or burning mouth, tongue, or lips, that’s likely just the normal reaction to pineapple, Dr. Sheehan says. On the flip side, if you start to swell up, experience severe itching that turns into a rash, begin wheezing, or have difficulty breathing, you may have an allergy, he says. If you’re unsure, the best thing to do is get an allergy test, Dr. Sheehan says. That way, you don’t have to worry that your tingling is hinting at something more serious.

Is there a way to enjoy pineapple without all the stinging?

Pineapple will always contain enzymes and piercing crystals; it’s just part of its biology. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t eat the fruit unencumbered. There are just a few tips to keep in mind, Dr. Sheehan says.

Here are some preparations that Dr. Sheehan recommends to help improve the stinging:

  • Try cooking the pineapple to 135°F. This kills off the enzymes that cause burning, Dr. Sheehan says. Need inspo? Grill it during your next BBQ or bake it into an upside-down cake or muffin.
  • Combine it with dairy. That allows bromelain to focus on the whey and casein proteins in it instead of the ones in your mouth. The dairy will also help neutralize the pH. Did somebody say piña coladas? You can also mix it into some ice cream or a pineapple smoothie.

Now that you know what’s making your mouth tingle anytime you devour that spiky fruit, you can sit back and enjoy it with ease. It’s your choice whether you want to cook your pineapple to avoid the agitation or just power through a bowl of fresh cubes knowing it’s not causing any harm. For me? I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up the fresh stuff.