Giving bananas a run for their money, the totally tropical fruit is as popular as ever. Use it to tenderise meat or reduce inflammation – but don’t offer Iceland’s president a Hawaiian
What’s in a name?
The fruit’s name in English derives from its resemblance to the pine cone. Explorers in South America in the 15th century, who came across the plant, named it accordingly.
Pineapples are native to South America. They were discovered in the Amazon basin but were first grown commercially in Hawaii, which at one time was the world’s largest producer.
A pineapple is made up of multiple berries known as… pineapples. Part of the Bromeliaceae family, they grow in tropical zones, which is why Europe and most of the US rely on imports.
Ripe and Juicy
Contrary to popular belief, pineapples don’t ripen any further after they’ve been picked. It makes no difference if they’re green or orange as the colour of the fruit is no indication of its ripeness. The best way to tell if it’s ready to eat is to smell the base, which should have a sweet aroma.
The top five global growers are Costa Rica, Brazil, The Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. Costa Rica produces 2,685,130 tonnes of the crop a year, the majority of which are exported to the US and Europe.
Import and export
The industry supports a complex supply chain, with historic trade links enabling Belgium and the Netherlands to dominate the import and re-export business. Ghana is attempting to increase its exports, while Australia grows its own pineapples and doesn’t import at all.
In some parts of the world, over production has caused soil erosion and contamination of ground water. In Costa Rica, where huge tracts of land have been given over to growing the fruit, irreparable damage has been done, and the country has been criticised for its use of pesticides as well as for the poor wages paid to workers in the industry.
WHAT THEY SAY
“Pineapple is a good alternative to cocaine and has proved to be the best replacement for that crop, with good productivity and profitability.”
Anonymous, Peruvian trader
“Malaysia can now export 12,000 tonnes of pineapples worth RM40 million within a year to China. This figure is expected to increase.”
Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Malaysian agriculture minister
“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza. I am glad I do not hold such power.”
Gudni Th Jóhannesson, President of Iceland
In 2016 and early 2017, heavy rains in Costa Rica caused a shortage of pineapples and subsequent price rises around the world. However, the situation soon eased, and Mexico and other smaller producers used the opportunity to invest in their industries and increase their pineapple yield. The fruit’s popularity with consumers is growing in many parts of the world, particularly in China, and despite supplies being affected by climate, pineapple production looks set to remain a lucrative and sometimes cutthroat business. Fruit giant Del Monte recently won a $32m legal case against one of its suppliers, which was continuing to grow a trademarked variety after a sales agreement expired. Meanwhile, environmentalists have opposed the company’s expansion of its pineapple growing acreage.