Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


Ananas comosus

By Jeremy Trombley

The sweet succulent fruit of the pineapple is a popular treat in many parts of the world. It is eaten alone, with other fruits in a salad or incorporated into various dishes including cakes, ice cream, pizza, and meat entrées. Due to its large size and odd shape it is also widely used as an edible garnish or as a table decoration. However it is consumed, the pineapple is a unique and delicious fruit.

Description and Origins

Pineapples are large compound fruits composed of a number of fused berries. This gives them their characteristic spiny, tessellated exterior (Davidson). Fruits of some varieties can grow to weigh over 20 pounds, but most weigh between 2 and 5 pounds (Davidson). The plants can be easily propagated by cuttings from virtually any part of the plant. In particular, the crown of the fruit is used for this purpose as it can remain viable for long periods of time, even when dried (Davidson). They are usually pollinated by hummingbirds and insects, which was one difficulty encountered by Europeans when they first began cultivating them. Because their native pollinators were not around, the plants failed to produce fruits. However, it was quickly discovered that they could be hand pollinated (Davidson).

Pineapples contain large amounts of the enzyme bromelin which breaks down protein. It is found in such high quantities in the fruit that plantation and cannery workers must wear rubber gloves to keep their hands from being eaten away. Additionally, meats that are marinated in pineapple juice will fall apart and turn into mush. Bromelin, however, is easily destroyed by heat, so cooked or canned pineapple products won't have this effect (Davidson).

Although its exact origins remain a mystery and no ancestral varieties remain, the pineapple is believed to have been domesticated in modern day Brazil (Johnson 1997) (Davidson). From there it spread around the tropical regions of the Americas including to the islands of the caribbean. The natives of this area referred to it as annani, and that name is preserved in both its scientific name and in many European languages. The spanish, however, referred to the fruit as piña because of its resemblance to a pine cone, and the english name pineapple is derived from this Spanish origin (Johnson).

Introduction to Europe

For obvious reasons, Europeans, after first arriving in the New World, were enamored by the pineapple. Sir Walter Raleigh referred to it as “the princess of fruits,” (Davidson) and its sweet juicy flesh was a luxury enjoyed predominantly by the elite. Pineapples were rapidly adopted by Europeans as an exotic treat, and attempts were quickly made to grow them in Europe since few survived the long voyages across the ocean. Wealthy individuals were able to grow them in greenhouses which started to be called pineries (Johnson 1997), and many pineapples were presented to royalty including Charles V who refused to touch it (Davidson). During this time the pineapple became such a symbol of wealth that images of it were often found carved on fine furniture, and upper-class women would often rent one to use as a centerpiece for special occasions (Johnson 1997).

Later, the pineapple was introduced to the Azores, where they could be easily shipped to Western Europe, and hothouse cultivation of pineapples died out (Davidson). By the nineteenth century, pineapples had been introduced to almost every tropical region of the world including India, and the pacific islands. It was on Hawaii that pineapple canning began, making this former food of the elite available to everyone.


Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 1999.

Johnson, Sylvia A. Tomatoes, Potatoes, Corn, and Beans: How the Foods of the Americas Changed Eating Arou. 1st ed. Atheneum, 1997.