Eat To Live

Grilled to sweet perfection

Grilled banana, mango and pineapple, drizzled with a gula melaka-based syrup and topped with nuts.
Grilled banana, mango and pineapple, drizzled with a gula melaka-based syrup and topped with nuts.ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

With its natural sugars caramelised, grilled fruit makes for an easy and healthy dessert

The first time I ate a grilled fruit for dessert was not at some chichi restaurant but, rather, on a deserted island off Mersing on the east coast of Malaysia.

We had just finished a barbecue on the beach. We lay back replete, but no one had brought dessert.

Then I spotted a whole pineapple that someone did bring. I decided to peel it and grill slices of it on the dying coals of the barbecue. It ended up with pretty grill marks and tasted glorious, especially when drizzled with a bit of honey.

Nowadays, I've extended my repertoire, but grilled fruit remains one of my favourite desserts.

Unusual, I know, but what could be easier and healthier?

Where can you find a dessert that is sweet but with natural sugars and is free of fat and cholesterol?

 All fruit can be grilled, whether they are stone fruit like peaches and nectarines or the more familiar tropical fruit. I used banana, mango and pineapple for a medley of yellows over which I drizzled a rich brown syrup and added a green mint leaf for a pretty contrast.

You can use any fruit. All of them turn intensely sweeter with the caramelising of the natural sugars brought about by the grilling.

I choose tropical fruits simply because they are cheaper and easily on hand.

Most conveniently, you do not need to fire up a barbecue just for this. I grilled this lot on a grill pan, though I should have watched the heat closer so as not to overcook the fruit, which I did a tad.

I added nuts at the end for some textural interest and instead of drizzling honey over it all, I made a sauce from gula melaka and rum. Its glycemic index is low, meaning it won't spike your blood sugar levels. But you could omit this and add a dollop of low-fat yogurt instead to keep to a stricter nutritional discipline.

Aside from the convenience and the deliciousness of eating fruit in yet another form, there are well- known benefits to eating more fruit. It contains calcium, essential for healthy bones and teeth.

It is rich in fibre, which is associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease.

It has iron, magnesium and potassium, which are needed respectively for healthy blood and normal functioning of cells, for strong bones and to help maintain good blood pressure.

It also contains vitamin A, which helps keep eyes and skin healthy and protects against infections, and vitamin C, which promotes healing and helps keep teeth and gums healthy.

  • Healthier than most desserts

    Grilled fruit is considered healthier than most desserts and deep-fried fruit, said Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at the Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre.

    Grilling caramelises the natural sugar found in fruit, turning it brown and intensifying its sweetness, she said.

    This helps keep you from being tempted to add more sugar.

    However, some heat-sensitive nutrients, including vitamin C, will be lost during the grilling process, said Ms Chia.

    Tropical fruits such as pineapple, banana and mango are loaded with both vitamins and minerals. They are also low in fat but high in dietary fibre.

    The banana, pineapple and mango in this recipe would give you 18.2g of fibre in total, which would amount to 73 per cent of your daily fibre requirement, said Ms Chia.

    The fat content would come to 4.8g - a mere 2 per cent of your daily fat allowance, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

    However, gula melaka is largely made up of sugar, so use it sparingly. One cup (250g) has 214.2g of sugar, said Ms Chia.

Nutrition aside, fruit treated in this way just tastes great. Even mediocre and less-than-ripe fruit turn out rather delicious after some time under the grill.

And the thing is, all fruit can be grilled, whether they are stone fruit like peaches and nectarines or the more familiar tropical fruit.

I used banana, mango and pineapple for a medley of yellows, over which I drizzled a rich brown syrup and added a green mint leaf for a pretty contrast.

The bananas especially turn out pretty sensational after this treatment. They become exceedingly sweet without any extra sugar.

A few tips: Do watch the grill carefully so as not to overcook the fruit.

You want them still firm after the grilling. It is better to leave the skin on to hold the flesh, but pineapple slices are pretty hardy, so no worries there.

•Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline 'Grilled to sweet perfection'. Print Edition | Subscribe