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Pineapple on Pizza: The History of… Why?

Pizza

There are few more divisive debates in the food world than pineapple as a pizza topping. In fact, it’s a topic so hotly discussed that you’re either hungry reading the title of this post or already clenching your fists in anger as your stomach turns.

As pizza aficionados, we wanted to explore this phenomenon. Of course, we’re not going to tell you what the right toppings should be. However, we wanted to dive into the history of pineapple on pizza and why people love conflicting flavor combinations.

The Beginning of Pineapple on Pizza

For those who didn’t already know, the widely loved and hated pizza with pineapple and ham is called a Hawaiian pizza – though the only thing Hawaiian about it is its name. The Hawaiian pizza was the creation of Greek Canadian restauranteur Sam Panopolous with a fascination for Chinese cuisine back in the 1960s.

His restaurant, Satellite, in Chatham, Ontario wasn’t anything out of the ordinary – they served classic American food like hamburgers and fries. But Sam, having been inspired by Chinese American foods and their blending of sweet and savory flavors, experimented with different combinations. As he waded into the realm of pizza, he was curious how the sweet juiciness of pineapple would play against the salty smokiness of ham. 

Since there is rarely – if ever – a pizzeria that doesn’t have a Hawaiian pizza on their menu, it goes without saying that his experiment was a commercial success.

Still, pineapple on pizza remains controversial. From innocent family feuds to international incidents involving Icelandic presidents, this is a topping that is equally beloved and reviled.

So why do people love it so much? Like so many things in our weird world, there’s a scientific explanation for it.

The Science Behind Sweet and Savory Flavor Combos

Even if you don’t like pineapple on pizza, there might be other sweet/savory flavor combinations you like that your friends judge you for. Try some of these out if you haven’t because they have no business being as tasty as they are – but they are tasty:

  • Regular potato chips dipped in butterscotch pudding
  • Salted caramel
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Bacon pancakes
  • Apples and cheese
  • Chocolate-covered pretzels
  • Dill pickle slices dipped in pure maple syrup
  • Ice cream and french fries (ever dip a fry into a shake?)

As you can see – and depending on your own tastes – the list includes food combinations that seem both mouthwatering and outlandish. Understanding why anyone would like any of these combos comes down to just that: taste (and the science thereof) and a culinary concept called flavor layering.

We have five main categories of taste: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory – or, more commonly referred to by its Japanese name, umami. Beyond simple enjoyment of foods, each taste has its own evolutionary purpose:

  • Sweetness helps detect sources of carbohydrates that our bodies crave for energy.
  • Bitterness deters us from eating something potentially poisonous or otherwise bad for us.
  • Sourness also keeps us from eating things we shouldn’t, like spoiled or unripe fruit.
  • Saltiness acts as a marker for necessary nutrients like sodium chlorate, which our bodies use to regulate cellular fluids among other functions.
  • Savory indicates the presence of proteins and other amino acids, especially since it’s commonly identified with meaty flavors (though not all of them are meats).

Since salt also brings out other flavors, mixing it with other tastes – such as sweet – sends positive signals to our brains. Mixing flavors like this is called flavor layering; why we enjoy and sometimes crave these mixtures is called sensory-specific satiety. For instance, it’s why after you eat something sweet and sugary, you might crave something salty, or vice versa.

Because humans are omnivores, we crave variety. Too much of the same will bore us and ruin our appetites. But switching things up with strange flavor combinations – like pineapple on pizza – can give your body a great sensory experience. Or, if you hate it, make you crave something else. This is a useful trick if you can’t decide on what to eat or your appetite just isn’t there and needs a reset.

As far as pizza goes, Coconut Kenny’s has a classic Hawaiian pizza with savory, smoky ham and sweet, tangy pineapple. However, we also have our own take on it with our Spicy Islander, swapping out ham with pepperoni for an extra kick. Of course, if pineapple on pizza isn’t your thing, we have plenty of non-pineapple options for you to enjoy.

Where do you stand on the pineapple on pizza debate? What are some of your own favorite weird sweet-and-salty flavor combos? Let us know in the comments below!

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