Wednesday 1 November 2023


Kerala , my home state in India is blessed with a lot of locally grown tropical fruits. Pineapple is one among them. This exotic fruit is so cheap here that it is available for less than half a USD a KG! And it is abundantly available during the season.But when I read somewhere that pineapple was a status symbol among the elite in Europe some time back- in 16th and 17th century- I decided to make a trail of it to have a better understanding of the theme.

Pineapple is a native of South America especially to Brazil and Paraguay. It was known as 'Ananas Comosus' in Guarani, a local live language which existed there from the days of the conquest of the Spanish. It was Christopher Columbus in 1496 who brought a lone pineapple which survived his long voyage of weeks- in a ship which had only wind power- from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to Spain. He presented it to King Ferdinand as "pina de Indes"- Pine of the Indians thinking that he had just discovered India for this island!. The king fell for the taste of the fruit which was unknown to anyone in Europe till then! The hey days of pineapple commenced that day!!

As pineapples started being available in a limited way in Europe, the wealthy went wild with the taste of this fruit. Along with the taste, pineapple became synonymous with nobility and wealth as it became the favorite of Charles II of Scotland, Catherine the Great of Russia, Louis XV of France and King Ferdinand of Spain!


From the Mayas to "Pineries" of Europe...
Around 750 BC, the Mayas and Aztecs of Mexico were the oldest civilization which cultivated pineapples. Soon it might have spread around the areas of that Continent , but nothing is recorded until Christopher Columbus who transported the first pineapple to Europe in 1496 which he named as "pina de Indes"-Pine of India. Just 25 years later Magellan too discovered the pineapple plant in his exploration of Brazil. Spaniards named the fruit "pinas" due to resemblance to pine cone.
In Europe by mid 1600 pineapples were successfully cultivated in specially designed hot houses called "pineries". In 1677 the first European grown pineapple in England was presented to King Charles II and soon "pinery" became a status symbol.

Pineapple madness...
As the pineapple became sought after, rivalries broke out among the aristocrat families of Europe! It was so expensive that only few could eat it. At one stage it was "rented" out to banquets for display! Pineapples were carved into stones, carpet, sand, wood by artists making pineapple a luxury. By 18th century, the fruit became an architectural feature of selective buildings.In Europe  such a craze reverberated to the extent that a single fruit cost $8000 by today's standards!

How the price came down....
By early 18th century, steamships came into existence for navigation. Long voyages could be made in rather short periods unlike the earlier ships which were depending on wind power. Transport of pineapples in bulk also could be facilitated in shorter period which made Europe to get fresh supplies from far away countries which were colonized by then. Pineapple became a product of colony and prices came down!

 So also many countries of South America. In 1888 John L Jensen, a new migrant to US made a modern plantation of 133 acres extent and export center at Florida. In 1899 James D Dole ,a Harvard graduate developed a modern pineapple plant of 65 acres at Hawaii who was known as pineapple king!

And now..
As the scientific world found out that pineapples are low in calories while high in vitamins,minerals and an antioxidant, the fruit- fresh as well as canned- became very popular.Largest producers of pineapples currently are Philippines, Costa Rica and Brazil.Even fresh pineapples come under world renowned brands like Del Monte,Dole and Chiquita.The best and tastiest pineapple is the Caribbean Antigua Black Pineapple although it is not black.

Pineapple cultivation was introduced to India in 1548 by the Portuguese colonists in Kerala and Goa but was limited to traditional cultivation.Assam,Meghalaya and Tripura are the states where pineapples are grown largely in India currently.There is a village named Vazhakulam near my home town which is very well known for this exotic fruit which I believe has a geographical tag for taste and quality. I have read the other day that Kerala state is in the process of making wine from locally grown pineapples and few more fruits.I am sure that only few might have observed Pineapple motifs built on famous Charminar at Hyderabad as seen below.Interestingly it is there since 16th century built by Qutb Shahi dynasty. 


To this day when the best hotels and banquet halls display fruits from all over the world, it will be crowned by a fresh pineapple! Many countries of the world call pineapple as ananas to this day especially those who speak Arabic, Hindi, German, French and Greek. This is the story of Pina de Indes or ananas  oops pineapple!



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