They say you’re only as good as the company you keep – so it’s no wonder pineapples are known as the king of fruits.
The unique treat has rubbed elbows with plenty of monarchs over the years, but its backstory is even juicier than all the drama on The Crown.
Long Live the King
Pineapples weren’t always fruit royalty.
The tropical treat got its humble start in South America, where it grew up happily in the humid rainforests of Brazil and Paraguay.
It wasn’t long before natives took notice of the spiny wonder, cultivating the crop and spreading its seeds throughout South and Central America. And as more people took to the nearby seas, the pineapple was also taken for a ride – thanks in part to its hardiness and stable shelf-life – eventually becoming a staple crop of the Caribbean.
That’s where the king of fruits had its first great date with destiny.
Columbus and his crew were likely the first Europeans to encounter the pineapple, after they dropped anchor off the shores Guadeloupe.
Legend has it, the crew stopped by the luscious Caribbean island to inspect what turned out to be an abandoned Carib village – and that’s where they found cook pots filled with human body parts, and other cook pots filled with fruits and vegetables.
The story goes that they only sampled from one – and we’re pretty sure it was the one with the pineapples.
The crew was so enamored with the crop that it quickly found its way in the belly of their boats, where it was carried all the way back to Europe and officially introduced to the Court.
Pining for More
For all their decadence, the royal courts of Europe in the 1500s had hardly any taste.
We mean, literally.
The continent may have proved fertile ground for art and architecture, but inspiring produce was not exactly among its top yields.
That’s why the impact of the pineapple was doubly effective: The strange fruit not only tasted rich, but looked like a million bucks.
Indeed, its scientific name reflects this dual blessing: Ananas comosus, with comosus meaning “tufted” in Latin, describing the plant’s exalted stem, and the “nana” of Ananas representing the plant’s South American name – which itself stood for “delicious fruit.”
The much more pedestrian pineapple was taken from the original English word for pinecone – likely used as an attempt to explain the fruit’s spiky shape.
But even if they could pronounce it, that didn’t mean they could grow it, and European farmers found pineapple cultivation there to be a royal pain. It took several centuries of fits and starts before they designed the right type of hothouse to keep the crops happy.
In the meantime, anyone hoping for a taste of the treat would have to wait for the not-so-fresh deliveries made by those sailing across the Atlantic. But funding such a thing ain’t cheap – and neither were pineapples.
The fruit stood in as a status symbol, representing the vast wealth of anyone lucky enough to be near one. And in a power move that would’ve been worth plenty of social media likes in today’s currency, England’s King Charles II had himself painted receiving a pineapple gift, perhaps cementing the title of best selfie of all time.
Europe may have been loath to export something as valuable as a pineapple, but the continent at least transferred their taste for the sweet treat back to the fledgling American colonies. And while the Brave New World was much more suited for diverse crop rotation, the pineapple remained elusive, still needing to be shipped in from the source.
That proved to be an exceptionally neat trick for the colonists. While they actually lived closer to pineapple territory, the nature of wooden ship sailing – and all the heat and humidity that got trapped inside the vessels – meant many of the crops would still rot before reaching shore.
Only the speediest ships (and fairest trade winds) had any hope of delivering a ripe pineapple example, and most of those worked for Europe.
Still, desire to hold court with the king of fruits remained high, as grand dinner parties emerged as entertainment in early American life.
Elaborate centerpieces were constructed to woo guests, and any featuring the rare exotic treat were an instant success – and a not-so-subtle way of flaunting’s one wealth in front of one’s guests. (Such bad manners!)
But, just like the fabulous lifestyles portrayed by many reality TV stars today, it was nearly all for show.
A number of stores made a mint out of renting pineapples out for the night – proving that money may come and go, but the art of hustling is timeless.
One For All Pine
By the 1800s, the king of fruits officially ruled the world, as Spanish and Portuguese explorers had plucked it from South and Central America and carried it with them throughout the South Pacific and, eventually, Asia.
But it wasn’t until later that century that pineapples would really hit their stride.
The fruit found a particularly friendly home in Hawaii, and the tiny island chain would play the biggest role yet in its growth. It was there, in 1886, that the first commercial pineapple plantation was established – founded, in large part, by James Dole.
The fruit pioneer was so successful, he expanded the business 3 times in 30 years, and after a Dole employee invented the automatic peeling and coring machine, in 1911, the franchise was nearly unstoppable.
Pineapples exploded in both popularity and availability, with commoners everywhere finally able to enjoy their day in Court.
And today, the fruit is so widespread, it’s found in nearly everything, from smoothies to salsa to stir-fry.
The king of fruit even sits the throne on top of the world’s most popular food: Pizza. Whether it belongs there, however, is a whole other story.