Deliciously Tender Pineapple Meatballs

I just learned something super neat not so long ago : pineapple is a natural meat tenderizer.

How cool is that? A natural tenderizer that’s also super nutritious on top of being super flavorful!

I call it a major WIN!

Pineapple Meatballs | by Sonia! The Healthy Foodie

To be honest, I sort of knew about it already but never really felt the need to investigate and make some actual research on the subject until after I made those meatballs.

There was something sort of mystical about them… They were just so tender, so delicate in texture: they would just sort of melt in your mouth as soon as they’d hit your tongue, yet they held their shape really well until that moment where they landed in your mouth.

I thought the pineapple might be responsible for that, so I looked it up on the Internet, and indeed, I was right : pineapple contains a special enzyme called bromelain, which is quite efficient at dividing the amino acids found in meat, thus making it more soft and tender.

It sort of pre-digests the protein for you, if you will…

Pineapple Meatballs | by Sonia! The Healthy Foodie

Left to interact with it for too long, bromelain will turn your meat into some sort of a mushy, non palatable mess, so you don’t want to overdo it.

Bromelain works in these capacities due to its ability to separate amino acids. The compound separates the all-important peptide bonds that link the proteins in collagen. Since the collagen gives the muscle tissue its shape, once it’s broken down, the muscle tissue begins losing firmness. If you left meat for a day or two covered with bromelain, it would be noticeably mushy, so much so that you wouldn’t want to eat it. When used shortly before cooking, however, bromelain efficiently softens the steak for chewing, but leaves it firm enough to enjoy its taste. The enzymes are neutralized by heat of about 158 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius), so they stop working once cooked. (source: How Stuff Works )

In short, just allow Mr. Pineapple and Ms. Meaty Protein to play together for a couple of hours and you’ll get a piece of meat that’s nice and soft in your mouth but still firm enough to hold its shape when stuck onto your fork!

In the case of ground meat, however, it looks like things might be a little bit speedier, so don’t let it rest for too long, else you’ll end up with fancy dog feed, me thinks.

Because heat is the only way to stop the action of bromelain, I think it’s best to form your meatballs and cook them as soon as your ingredients have been mixed together or,  at the very least, within the hour.

Pineapple Meatballs | by Sonia! The Healthy Foodie

Also, seeing as how those meatballs balls were extremely delicate, I chose to bake them as opposed to pan fry them.

Oh, I COULD have pan fried them if I’d wanted to, but after testing a few (for taste, you know) I decided that I just didn’t have the necessary patience, nor was I delicate enough to get the job done right.

So I took a chance and popped them in the oven, which totally paid off!

I couldn’t have been more satisfied with the results I got. They came out perfectly browned and crispy.

And did I mention tasty?

Oh yeah, that too!

Pineapple Meatballs

Yield: Yields 36 to 48 meatballs (6-8 servings)

NF based on 1 of 8 servings

Pineapple Meatballs



  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Add all the ingredients to a large mixing bowl and mix with your hands until very well combined.
  3. Immediately form the meat mixture into 36 to 48 balls, depending on how big or small you like your meatballs, and place them onto the reserved cookie sheet.
  4. Place the meatballs in the oven and cook for 10 minutes at 425°F, then lower the temperature to 350°F and continue cooking for about 20 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through and crispy and golden brown all around.
  5. Transfer the cooked meatballs to a serving dish and garnish with a few pieces of fresh pineapple and fresh parsley, if desired.

Pineapple Meatballs | by Sonia! The Healthy Foodie

An ice cream scoop works wonders to form the meatballs… 

Pineapple Meatballs | by Sonia! The Healthy Foodie

See how nice and round and uniform in size? 

Fantastic little gadget! 

Pineapple Meatballs | by Sonia! The Healthy Foodie

Look at how nice and golden and crispy…

Can you believe that those meatballs were actually baked?

Pineapple Meatballs | by Sonia! The Healthy Foodie

I wish you were the one who had just taken that bite…

Then you would know for yourself just how wonderful their flavor and texture truly were. 

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    • Sandra says

      Just made these. Flavor is nice but texture is lacking. Suspect less coconut flour might help. They are falling apart and have grainy texture. May try again in future with less coconut flour. I’m thinking maybe 1-2 tbs instead of 1/4 c.

        • Kathy LaPonsie says

          I was so looking forward to these meatballs. They were mushy, gingery, and fell apart. Texture reminded me of liver pate. I would love to know what I did wrong or if it is the recipe.

          • says

            Looks like it’s a hit or miss with these meatballs… some people have had great success and others not so much. I’ve made them a couple of times myself and while they were really delicate, they still held their shape pretty well. I suspect the bromelain is to blame, i.e. the pineapple. Did you use fresh or canned? And did you weigh it?

            • Debbie says

              I’m one of the ones for whom this was a miss. I usually look at the comments before I make a recipe, and I didn’t this time. Now I’m trying to think of what to do with two pounds of cooked ground meat.

  1. melinda says

    Pineapple! who would have thought?! I like to bake my meatballs too, I use my mini muffin pan. The “balls” come out a bit odd shaped but “crispy” all around. Try it some time. I Will be trying this recipe with pineapple, thanks for the research on bromelain.

    • says

      The parchment paper lined sheet really works wonders, Melinda. Try it instead of the muffin tin next time. The meatballs do get a little bit flatter on one side, but they tend to do that in a regular pan, too, anyway! Let me know how you like those meatballs if you give them a try! :)

  2. says

    I’ve been on a meatball kick lately, and these look so delicious! I think they would make a great appetizer, especially since they are baked. I can’t believe I’ve never thought to use my cookie scoop for meatballs. Great Idea!

    • says

      Funny, I too have been loving on meatballs big time, lately. Meatballs and beef patties! And I totally agree on the appetizer thing. In fact, I don’t think I could think of a much better appetizer. I should’ve come up with a dipping sauce for these. Then they would’ve been perfect! 😉

  3. Rose says

    Thanks for the yummy recipe! They came out delicious – so, so ,so moist inside. I wish they were a bit browner on the outside but my guys were salivating over the oven door so I just did a quick broil to brown them a light brown at the end of the 20 minutes. May pan fry them next time in coconut oil to get more of a crisp outside/ tender inside effect. Excellent job – amazing what a tenderizer pineapple is.

    • says

      Oh, thank you so very much for the kind review, Rose. Glad you and your boys like the meatballs. Mine came out perfectly brown and crispy on the outside while super tender on the interior, but I can totally imagine what it would be like to pan fry them in an inch or so of coconut oil. Oh yum. It’s got to be AMAZING! Let me know how they come out if you do give it a try! :)

  4. Sarah says

    I made these last night. Very yummy. I altered your recipe based on what I had. I only used one green onion, I used ground deer meat instead of sausage, and I didn’t have the bird’s eye so I just tossed in about a tsp of cayenne red pepper. I also made them bigger, rolled with my fingers instead of a mini-scoop (and because I wanted to cook them all at once on one baking sheet). 4 was plenty for lunch. Thanks for the recipe!

  5. Candice says

    I followed this recipe exactly and they were a complete disaster. I am in a paleo cooking club and I had to throw away 60 meatballs. They fell apart and tasted like pure coconut flour. The consistency was fine before I baked them so I’m not sure what the problem was but I was really looking forward to these and they were a flop!

    • says

      I’m very sorry to hear, Candice. I wish I could help you pinpoint exactly what went wrong, but unfortunately, it’s hard to do that when you don’t have every last detail. The fact that you think they tasted like pure coconut flour seems weird to me, though because honestly, you shouldn’t really be able to taste it at all! Again, real sorry to hear that the meatballs didn’t work for you…

  6. Becky says

    My meatballs came out so soft that they fell apart when I tried to lift them out of the pan. Prior to baking the held their shape, so I didn’t expect them to crumble completely. The texture is a little wet and grainy from the coconut flour. Kind of disappointing, but I liked the flavor well enough. I’ll eat the leftovers, but probably won’t attempt these again.

    • says

      I’m real sorry to hear, Becky. I wish I could offer some insight as to why this happened… Glad to hear that the flavor was to your liking at least, and hopefully you will think of some way to use up those leftovers and turn them into a delicious dish!

      • Becky says

        They seemed like they’d be good over rice. Since I’m doing the Whole 30 and can’t have rice, I subbed cauliflower rice and just spooned the crumbled meatballs over the top. :)

        • says

          Sounds soooo yummy! Now I want some of that (although if I do make it, I think I’ll save myself the trouble of making the meatballs in the first place and just plain cook the meat in a skillet!) 😉

          So glad you managed to save your crumbled meatballs, Becky. :)

  7. Lucie says

    These were probably the worst thing I have ever made! Terrible texture!! We had to throw all of it away….it would have ruined anything we tried to add it to. Such a waste of time and money. I think it must have been the coconut flour….it didn’t seem like the right thing to add.

  8. kristen says

    So disappointed! The flavors were great but they fell apart and had a horrible texture. Very grainy and unpleasant in the mouth. Will try to make a revised version as I was super excited about the pork/pineapple/green onion combination but will substitute something else for the coconut flour.

    • says

      I’m so sorry to hear, Kristen. I’ve made these meatballs on a few occasions and while I always found them to be extremely delicate, they still would hold their shape for me. Maybe I should revise the recipe, though, so that meat is less “crumbly”. Let me know how they turn out without the coconut flour, if you ever attempt it.

      • Kristen says

        I’m also wondering about the fat content of the meat you used. My beef was 85/15 so a bit on the fatty side, maybe a leaner meat wouldn’t fall apart so much. I’ll be sure to let you know if I make them again with modifications.

        And I love your heart ring in the last photo. So cute!!!

        • says

          You know what? You might be on to something here… maybe fat content plays a big role in this, although I’m thinking more fat would be better and would help the meatballs stick together more efficiently. Did you also use pork or just the beef? Because pork is a lot higher in fat than beef is… I think next time I make them, I’ll try and throw in some extra fat as well as replace the coconut flour.

          Gah, now you got me wanting to whip up a batch right this minute. I wish there wasn’t already so much food in the fridge and only one of me to eat it all! 😉 Pineapple is definitely going on the grocery list, though, I can tell you that much!

          And thank you for your kind comment about my ring. That’s super nice of you to say!

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