When you think of Hawaii, a pineapple is one of the things that might instantly come to mind (aside from other obvious imagery like beautiful sunsets, rolling waves, and lush mountains). But it makes sense why so many of us tend to associate Hawaii with pineapples; the spiky, exotic golden fruit has long been a symbol of the islands.
Home to the Maui Gold Pineapple Company and the Dole Pineapple Plantation, there’s no doubt that Hawaii is well-known for this tasty, sweet fruit that grows in its ideal tropical climate. That’s why when you order something “Hawaiian-style” (like a pizza for instance), it’ll usually show up with pineapple on it. Hawaii is even where you’ll find what’s referred to as the Pineapple Express: a tunnel of atmospheric rivers that fill the North Pacific air. Hawaii and pineapple simply go together.
But as strongly associated as the two are, the pineapple – or “hala kahiki”, as it’s called in Hawaiian – surprisingly isn’t native to the Aloha State.
So where exactly did pineapples originate…and how did they get to Hawaii? Let’s dig into all the sweet details.
From South America to Europe and beyond
The specific origin of the pineapple remains somewhat unknown, but botanists and historians believe that the fruit first grew in South America – most likely in the region between what we now know as Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.
The Guarani Indians of South America carried pineapples with them in their trades across Central America and the Caribbean. But back then, the fruit wasn’t called pineapple; the indigenous people referred to it as “nana”, which means “excellent fruit”.
Fast forward hundreds of years later: Christopher Columbus arrives in the new world and records one of the first written references of the fruit. Columbus stumbled upon the fruit in 1493 on the island of Guadeloupe, naming it “piña” because the pointy exterior looked like a pine cone. He brought it back to Europe with him, where the delicious fruit became an exclusive delicacy of sorts, representing a symbol of status among European aristocrats.
Meanwhile, all the way over in Brazil, Magellan had also discovered the fruit. Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish and the Portuguese explorers both did their separate parts to spread the fruit to various parts of the world; they began to be cultivated in hot houses throughout Europe and eventually made their way to the tropical climates of Africa, Asia, the West Indies, and the Pacific.
When did the pineapple arrive in Hawaii?
The truth is that this question is nearly impossible to answer. Some believe that a Spanish shipwreck brought pineapples to the Big Island in the 1500s, while others believe that the English explorer Captain James Cook introduced the pineapple to Hawaii centuries later in the 1770s. The fruit’s first appearance on the islands remains a bit of a mystery.
But we do know that the first written record of pineapples being grown for commercial use comes from 1813, when Don Francisco de Paula Marin first planted the crop in Honolulu. As he wrote in his journal, “This day I planted pineapples and an orange tree.” And thus, pineapples began to flourish in Hawaii.
Later in the 1800s, others joined Marin in planting and exporting pineapples in Hawaii, establishing their own pineapple plantations around the islands. One of the first to develop a plantation was a man named John Kidwell, who is credited with being a pioneer in perfecting the crop to create the delicious Hawaiian pineapples we love.
Then came James Dole: a name we all know, and one that’s essentially become synonymous with the word pineapple. “The Pineapple King”, as he’s referred to, started a canning business in the early 1900s, and from there the pineapple industry took off in a big way – making pineapples Hawaii’s largest and most profitable crop for most of the 20th century.
Hawaii’s pineapple heyday has since ended, and with so many other countries producing and exporting the fruit, today Hawaii only produces about 10% of the world’s supply. But the delicious pineapple is still one of the state’s major crops, and it remains a sweet symbol of Hawaii.
The Philippines is the world’s biggest producer of pineapples, which produces 2.7 million tons of pineapples per year. Hawaii still produces pineapples, but much less so than it once did. Today, the state produces less than 10% of the world’s pineapples.
While the pineapple is not technically native to Hawaii, the state is home to many other exotic fruits that originated there. Some fruits that are native to Hawaii are pitaya, lychee, rambutan, star fruit, mountain apple, passionfruit, and guava.
It’s hard to know the exact location and how long ago pineapples began to grow, but it’s widely believed by historians and botanists that the pineapple originated in South America, in the region where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet.
The pineapple’s arrival in Hawaii is unknown – some think it showed up on the islands around 1770, but the pineapple’s first recorded presence in Hawaii was written in a journal by a man named Don Francisco de Paula Marin in 1813.