The History of the Pineapple
If you like piña coladas—or even if you don’t—there’s so much to love about the weird and wonderful pineapple. At once a delectably sweet indulgence and a nutrient-dense superfood, this is one tropical fruit that truly packs a punch. But how much do you really know about the prickly pineapple (Ananas comosus), and how it first came onto the culinary scene?
Here, we take a look at the history of the pineapple, and reveal the top health benefits of working it into your diet at home. Take heart: fruity drinks and desserts do, indeed, count!
About the Pineapple
While a pineapple is most often regarded as a fruit, it is technically a tropical plant that bears an edible fruit. Part of the Bromeliaceae family of plants, it is indigenous to South America and is thought to have originated in the Brazilian rainforests. It’s been cultivated there for centuries, with its planting and harvesting ultimately spreading into Central America, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and beyond. Today, pineapples grow in many places around the world.
This is where the history of the pineapple meets the history of the new world. In 1493, Christopher Columbus himself first encountered the pineapple on his voyage back home. This purportedly happened on the island of Guadeloupe. Together with his crew of Spaniards, they coined the strange fruit “piña”—or pinecone—because of its strange and spiky ovoid shape. It’s safe to say they were fans of the fruit, since they brought stores of them back to Spain and ultimately shared them with Queen Isabella, as a gift.
The Queen loved the tantalizing treat so much, of course, that she wanted more. This was not the easiest feat, considering Columbus had voyaged some 3,100 nautical miles just to reach the Americas (and his first taste of pineapple) in the first place. The first attempts to grow pineapple in Spain failed quickly. A subtropical climate, it is not.
For a time, the nation continued to import the fruit across vast distances at sea. By the 16th century, thanks to greenhouse innovations and a little bit of practice, the pineapple was being cultivated and enjoyed not only in Spain, but throughout Western Europe.
According to the USDA, it is the English who are credited with appending the word “apple” to “piña” to give the now-famed fruit its name. From that point, around the mid 1600s, it was only a matter of time before pineapples would be exported to the far reaches of the globe: India, Australia, and even more remote islands beyond.
Don’t fret for the Americas, though. They didn’t have to wait long for their first sweet taste of pineapple—but it would cost them. Despite the colonies’ close proximity to South America, Central America, the West Indies and Brasil, initial imports of the pineapple were considered a luxury. The fruits were expensive to bring over when there were so few settlers and limited demand. As a result, it’s said that one pineapple could run as high as $8,000 (adjusted to today’s dollar). So only the well-heeled could afford them on occasion.
Thankfully (for our smoothies), the American industrialist, James Dole, entered the scene in the early 1900s. He started a pineapple plantation—the Hawaiian Pineapple Company—on the island of Lana’i, and within a few short years, his plantation was responsible for three quarters of the world’s pineapple production. It’s safe to say it was a successful enterprise, and we know it today as the Dole Food Company.
Pineapple: the Superfood
It’s a fruit so tasty that, much like Helen of Troy, it literally launched a thousand ships—if not more over the last several centuries. Still, there’s more to pineapple than its pleasing palate. It’s also a superfood, which means it has an exceptionally nutritious makeup with many health benefits.
Packed with vitamins A, K, calcium, zinc and phosphorus, fresh pineapple is also rich in vitamin C, all of which are considered essential to the recommended daily diet for adults, according to the USDA. Here are just a few of the ways that pineapples work overtime to provide the nutrients we need while also satisfying our sweet tooth.
And that isn’t all. Pineapple fruit is also credited with helping to: lower stress, reduce the risk of blood clots, brighten and clarify the skin, promote healthy weight loss, strengthen and thicken hair, and speed up muscle recovery, among many other proven benefits. Not bad for a tropical treat that’s actually fun to eat.
The Perfect Piña Colada
Speaking of eating pineapples, it’s just as effective to drink them—and what better way than in the form of a piña colada? There are dozens of variations on the recipe, but we like to keep things simple and let the pineapple fruit really shine. Here’s our favorite way to whip up one of these perennially popular poolside drinks for yourself.
Makes 4-6 servings
- 8-10 ounces of your favorite rum* (optional)
- 6 ounces of Coco Lopez cream of coconut
- 6 ounces of pineapple juice
- Up to ¾ cup of fresh pineapple, cut into small pieces
- 3-4 cups of ice
* Puerto Rico’s Caribe Hilton claims to have created the original piña colada, and their recipe calls for a white or gold rum, which will give a light and refreshing taste; on the other hand, many Caribbean destinations have populated the use of dark rum in piña coladas, and this can give it a more complex flavor overall. It’s up to you—and it’s also completely optional!
- Place all ingredients into a blender and process until smooth
- Pour into your choice of tropical glasses
- Garnish with a wedge of fresh pineapple, or a leaf from a pineapple plant