Table of Contents
Pineapples are among the most unique fruits, with their spikey exterior, many eyes and sweet, delicious insides. Funnily enough, it’s also a fruit with a very storied history and deep symbolism. Who would think that pineapples once symbolized untold luxuries and wealth? Or that it represents hospitality?
Over the years, the symbolism and meaning of pineapple has changed, but its popularity hasn’t. It remains one of the most consumed fruits. Here’s a look at the story behind the pineapple and what it symbolizes.
What’s In a Name?
Today, we’re so used to seeing pineapples, whether fresh or tinned, but there was a time when it was still unknown in the West.
A tropical fruit with a juicy pulp on the inside, and a tough, spikey skin on the outside, pineapple was given its English name by the British explorer John Smith in 1624. According to Merriam-Webster, “It may be that Smith recalled the things that grew on pine trees when he saw the fruit, but more than likely it was so-named by the practice of calling a newly-encountered fruit apple”.
Interestingly enough, in almost every other major language, the pineapple is called ananas.
The History of Pineapples
Pineapples were originally cultivated in Brazil and Paraguay. From these regions, the fruit spread to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean Islands. The Mayans and Aztecs also cultivated it and used it for consumption and spiritual rituals.
In 1493, Christopher Columbus came across the fruit on his way to the Guadeloupe islands. Intrigued, he took back several pineapples to Europe to present at the court of King Ferdinand. However, only one pineapple survived the journey. It was an immediate hit and caused quite a stir.
From Europe, the pineapple journeyed into Hawaii in the early 19th century. Later on, it was cultivated on a large scale by James Dole, a pioneer of commercial cultivation and production.
From Hawaii, the pineapple was canned and transported across the world through ocean streamers. Hawaii exported tinned pineapple to Europe because the fruit could not be cultivated in cold regions. Soon, however, Europeans found a way to emulate tropical climatic conditions and create a suitable environment to harvest pineapples.
Although the pineapple was a luxury fruit initially, with the onslaught of technology and industrialization, it began to be cultivated all over the world. Soon it lost its significance as an elite fruit and became accessible to everyone.
Symbolic Meanings of Pineapples
The pineapple has predominantly been used as a symbol of hospitality. However, there are several other symbolic meanings associated with the fruit.
1. Symbol of Status
In early European society, pineapples were a symbol of status. Pineapples could not be grown on European soil, so only the affluent could afford to import them. They were extremely expensive in Europe because of their rarity. So sometimes, pineapples were rented as decorative centerpieces for social events but not often consumed. They were just placed for admiration and awe. In this way, the fruit became emblematic of luxury and wealth, and anyone who was anyone wanted to get their hands on a pineapple.
2. Symbol of Hospitality
In America, pineapples quickly became a symbol of hospitality and friendliness because of its exotic qualities and rarity. At the time, pineapples were brought to America via trade routes from the Caribbean Islands. The journey was slow and dangerous, and often, the fruit traveling these long distances wouldn’t make the journey. So, it wasn’t easy for a host to get their hands on a ripe pineapple. When they did, it meant that they’d gone through a lot of trouble and expense to find the fruit, thereby indicating their respect and hospitality towards the guest.
Pineapples were hung on doorways as a symbol of friendship and warmth. They were a sign welcoming guests for a friendly chat. Some sea captains and sailors, who returned safely from their oceanic voyages, placed a pineapple in front of their homes to invite friends and neighbours over and to proclaim that they’d returned safely.
3. Symbol of Hawaii
Although pineapples did not originate in Hawaii, today, we see them as Hawaiian fruit. This is because pineapples were cultivated in large numbers in Hawaii and became an integral part of Hawaiian culture, lifestyle, and cuisine. In Hawaii, they symbolize welcome, happiness, and the relaxed hospitality that Hawaii is known for.
4. Symbol of Feminism
These days, the pineapple has also become a symbol of femininity. We can trace this back to the famous fashion designer Stella McCartney, who used the pineapple design in her 2001 collection. The fruit was popular in prints then and has been ever since. Some interpret it as a symbol of a vagina, as this article in feminist Lenny Dunham’s newsletter states, “Yes, you can playfully joke that a pineapple is a vag, but it isn’t a friendly vag! There are spikes to get around, cutting into them takes a bit of practice, and if you don’t know how to eat them right, the rind will fuck up the corner of your mouth.” However, not everyone agrees with this symbolism.
Cultural Significance of the Pineapple
The pineapple is an integral part of many cultures and belief systems. In most cultures’ pineapples have a positive connotation.
The Aztecs used pineapple to prepare alcohol or wine known as Chicha and Guarapo. The bromelain enzyme of the pineapple was believed to have healing powers, and the fruit was used to treat stomach problems. Pineapples were also offered to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war.
For the Chinese, the pineapple is a symbol of good luck, fortune, and wealth. In some Chinese beliefs, pineapple spikes are seen as eyes that see ahead and bring good luck to the keeper.
In European Christian art of the 1500s, the fruit was a symbol of prosperity, wealth, and eternal life. And in the 17th century, Christopher Wren, the English architect, used pineapples as decorative elements in churches. In fact, pineapples appear to be everywhere in London, as this British blogger points out, “Pineapples. They’re everywhere in London. Once you start noticing them, you won’t stop seeing them”.
Interesting Facts About Pineapples
- Domestically grown pineapples are pollinated solely by hummingbirds.
- The pineapple fruit is produced when 100-200 flowers fuse together. Each “eye” on the surface of a pineapple is the fruit of an individual blossom, and what we think of as a pineapple fruit is a collection of these individual fruits fused together.
- Some people eat pineapples with burgers and pizzas, but others find this very weird.
- The heaviest pineapple was grown by E. Kamuk and weighed 8.06 Kgs.
- Catherine the Great was fond of pineapples and especially of ones that were grown in her gardens.
- The pineapple can flower much faster with the use of smoke.
- There are more than a hundred varieties of pineapples.
- The famous Pina Colada cocktail is predominantly made out of pineapples.
- Pineapples do not contain any fat or protein.
- Brazil and the Philippines are the highest consumers of the tropical fruit.
The delicious pineapple has been used across the globe for various purposes, from religious rituals to decorations. It remains a symbol of the tropics and of hospitality and welcome. But it’s also the perfect example of how symbols change over time, as its symbolism has evolved over the years, reflecting the cultural changes of the time.