The Unique History and Symbol of the Pineapple

A Fruit Representing Friendship, Luxury, and War

Ripe pineapples
Platter of large ripe pineapples

Kyle Rothenborg / Design Pics / Getty Images

While nearly all fruits have numerous mythologies tied to them that may be in conflict with each other or stray so far from an original story that the ancestor may rarely resemble the progenitor, there’s usually some commonality to them. The pineapple is a curious fruit that goes against this trend.

The Pineapple Backstory

The pineapple originally calls Brazil its home. It spread from there due to the movements of the Tupi Indigenous peoples, who also took it throughout parts of South and Central America as well as some surrounding islands. It was the Portuguese and Spanish who spread it throughout the world such as the Caribbean, Malaysia, the tropical parts of Asia, and India. In fact, it was the Spanish who eventually gave the fruit the name “pineapple” due to their appearance, as they resembled pine cones.

For the ancient peoples of the New World (New, at least, to Europeans), they recognized the pineapple as a fruit symbolizing friendship and hospitality. Families would hang pineapples outside their homes to perfume the entryway and make it welcoming to guests. It was an edible invitation.

Some Indigenous tribes in Mexico used pineapples in ceremonies praising the God, Vitzliputzli, a god of war.

Ancient peoples in the Americas also fermented pineapples into wine. This wine was used in numerous religious rituals and celebrations of every sort.

The Spaniards, however, had a different perspective on pineapples. When picked at peak freshness, a pineapple can only survive for about 1 month. The trip by boat from the Americas to Europe was considerably longer. Columbus had packed the hold with numerous pineapples after one of his voyages, but only one survived the trip. It was presented to King Ferdinand, as he had sponsored the voyage. Needless to say, the court adored the fruit. This, in turn, kicked off pineapple production in the tropics.

Symbol of Luxury

Since the fruit was so perishable, it became a symbol of luxury, nobility, and wealth throughout Europe. A single pineapple could fetch a fortune. Thus, the host who was able to present freshly cut pineapple to his or her guests was the one with money, power, and connections.

A few Europeans attempted to grow them in Europe’s soil, but only a few plants survived and were poor specimens. However, hothouse growing eventually began in the 19th century, and small-scale pineapple production began. It was here that certain popular varieties of pineapples that are still cultivated today were created. However, soon pineapple cultivation began in the Azores, and the need for these hothouses disappeared.

Once pineapple canning production took hold, the fruit quickly became far more accessible to people who didn’t live in the tropics or weren’t wealthy. As time went on and shipping methods grew faster and more effective, pineapple’s price quickly dropped and it became a fruit available to people of nearly every income level.