Contrary to its name, the pineapple is not a pine nor an apple. And although we associate it with the state of Hawaii, pineapple is not native to the islands at all. The connection with Hawaii has been made since the fruit was first canned there and became a major crop. But no matter what we think about pineapple or its name, it is universally thought of as a delicious tropical fruit that adds sweetness to both foods—such as pork and seafood—and tropical-inspired cocktails like the pina colada. Of course, there are always plenty of dessert recipes using pineapple like the classic pineapple upside down cake.
Ananas comosus is the botanical name of the fruit we know as the pineapple. Native to South America, it was named for its resemblance to a pine cone. Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering the pineapple on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493, although the fruit had long been grown in South America. He called it piña de Indes, meaning "pine of the Indians." The South American Guarani Indians called it nanã, meaning "excellent fruit," and cultivated them for food. The term pineapple (or pinappel in Middle English) did not appear in English print until around 1664.
The pineapple then made its way to the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico where it was cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans. Columbus introduced the pineapple to the Spaniards, who then brought it to the Philipines and later Hawaii. Another explorer, Magellan, is credited with finding pineapples in Brazil in 1519, and by 1555, the luscious fruit was being exported with gusto to England. It soon spread to India, Asia, and the West Indies.
Pineapple began to be cultivated in Europe, but because of the high cost of building and maintaining hothouses (as pineapples need a temperate climate to grow), they became a symbol of wealth. Instead of being eaten, the fruit was displayed at dinner parties, used repeatedly until they were rotten. By the late 1700s, production of pineapples on British estates caused rivalries between certain aristocratic families.
Pineapple in America
When George Washington tasted pineapple in 1751 in Barbados, he declared it his favorite tropical fruit. And although the pineapple thrived in Florida, it was still a rarity for most Americans.
Captain James Cook later introduced the pineapple to Hawaii circa 1770. However, commercial cultivation did not begin until the 1880s when steamships made transporting the perishable fruit viable. In 1903, James Drummond Dole started a pineapple plantation on the island of Oahu and began canning pineapple, making it easily accessible worldwide. Production stepped up dramatically when a new machine automated the skinning and coring of the fruit. The Dole Hawaiian Pineapple Company was a booming business by 1921, making pineapple Hawaii's largest crop and industry.
Pineapple Production Today
Today, Hawaii produces only 10 percent of the world's pineapple crops. Other countries contributing to the pineapple industry include Mexico, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Thailand, Costa Rica, China, and Asia. Pineapple is the third most canned fruit behind applesauce and peaches.
More about Pineapples
Now that you understand how pineapples ended up in your local grocery store, it's time to buy one and enjoy it (and not just as a centerpiece!). Make the most of your pineapple with tips on selection and storage, cooking with pineapple, and pineapple measures and equivalents.