The rise, fall, and rise of the status pineapple (2023)

  • Published

The rise, fall, and rise of the status pineapple (1)Image source, David Ashdown

By Bethan Bell

BBC News

Symbols have always been used to signal one's status. Military insignia, family signet rings and heirloom watches; impressive properties filled with original art, expensive cars and designer handbags ensure a luxury lifestyle is obvious to all. But for about 250 years, all of these signposts of wealth and good breeding were ably fulfilled by... the pineapple.

Centuries before even the man from Del Monte said "yes", the country's must-have accessory graced the table at the very richest aristocrats' social gatherings.

But the scaly sweet was too valuable to eat - a single fruit was worth thousands of pounds and often the same pineapple would be paraded from event to event until it eventually went rotten.

Later, a roaring trade in pineapple rental developed, where ambitious but less well-off folk might hire one for a special event, dinner party or even just to jauntily tuck under an arm on a show-off stroll.

Image source, Getty Images

By the 1770s, "a pineapple of the finest flavour" became a phrase used for anything that was the best of the best. It's played upon in Sheridan's 1775 play The Rivals, when Mrs Malaprop confuses the word with "pinnacle" and exclaims: "He is the very pineapple of politeness!".

In a television adaptation of Jane Austen's unfinished Regency novel Sanditon, Lady Denham's grand luncheon has a pineapple in pride of place - although it is cut to reveal the inside is full of maggots, demonstrating the vast wealth of the character but also the transitory nature of the status symbol.

So why did pineapples seize the public imagination so violently?

Image source, Philip Halling

The idea that pine apples (as they used to be known) are somehow associated with wealth and status is fairly well-established for those of us who enjoy a trip to a stately home.

Engravings can be admired on corbels and finials across the UK, remnants of a time when keeping up with the neighbours meant throwing lavish parties and displaying one's riches.

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The 16th and 17th Centuries saw a number of exotic foods brought back to Europe from the New World and Asia - and the pineapple became most associated with prestige and luxury.

According to Dr Lauren O'Hagan from Cardiff University's School of English, Communication and Philosophy, "the pineapple was previously unknown in the Old World, so it was free of the cultural resonances of other fruits, which enabled people to create new meanings from it".

For example, the apple was already associated with the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, while pomegranate seeds kept the Greek goddess Persephone in the underworld for half the year.

But, as Dr O'Hagan says, the pineapple's "exotic appearance" gave it a mythical quality, which was "enhanced by its golden crown, viewed as the symbolic manifestation of the divine right of king".

Image source, Heritage Images

The fruit even attracted a nickname: "King Pine". And actual kings were keen to hop on the gilded bandwagon.

John Parkinson, Royal Botanist to Charles I, described the pineapple in the Theatrum Botanicum as "scaly like an artichoke" but "so sweet in smell... tasting... as if wine, rosewater and sugar were mixed together."

Charles' son and successor Charles II was so taken with pineapples that he commissioned a portrait of himself being presented with one - it was purported to be the very first to be grown in England, at Dorney Court in Berkshire, but it's now thought to have been imported as a juvenile and merely ripened on home soil.

Image source, Carolyn Stoddart-Scott

By the Georgian era, pineapples were starting to be cultivated in Britain. Perhaps surprisingly, the fact that they could now be grown in situ did not decrease the fruit's cachet, but rather enhanced it.

Waiting for a pineapple to be transported from the tropics was one thing; having the facilities and staff skilled enough to grow one at home was quite another, becoming a hobby carried out exclusively by the landed aristocracy.

Johanna Lausen-Higgins, from the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh, says early attempts at cultivation were made in orangeries, which had been designed to provide frost protection for citrus fruit during the winter months, but they did not provide enough heat and light for the tropical pineapple.

The Gentleman's Magazine of 1764 estimated that it cost £150 (according to the Bank of England's inflation calculator, roughly equivalent today to £28,000) to build a hothouse, cover the annual running costs and buy the plant stock. And this expense was not guaranteed to give any return.

Image source, V and A Museum

"Heating in glasshouses during the mid 17th Century was provided by furnaces placed within the structure, but fumes often damaged or killed the plants," Ms Lausen-Higgins says.

"Later, 'fire walls' were heated by hot air rising from furnaces or stoves which required constant stoking with coal. This was a dangerous method and many early 'pineries', as they later became known, burned down."

On top of the risks of one's pineapple investments going up in smoke, it took several years for the fruit to bloom.

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A pineapple which had overcome all those hurdles was scarce enough to be valued at £60 (roughly £11,000). It was even better if it had shoots and leaves still on it, making it clear that it was homegrown.

Image source, Imagno

Concerned about wasting such high-value fruit by eating it, owners displayed pineapples as dinnertime ornaments on special plates which would allow the pineapple to be seen and admired but surrounded by other, cheaper, fruit for eating.

These pineapples were expensive enough to warrant security guards, and maids who transported them were considered to be at great risk of being targeted by thieves.

The 1807 Proceedings of the Old Bailey show several cases for pineapple theft, Dr O'Hagan points out, including that of a Mr Godding who was sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia for stealing seven pineapples.

Image source, Proceedings of the Old Bailey

Because the ever-aspiring middle classes were anxious to get their mitts on the fruit but could not afford to cultivate or buy them, canny businessmen opened pineapple rental shops across Britain. Companies began to cash in on the fruit's popularity and as with many crazes, the market for pineapple-themed goods exploded.

Porcelain-makers Minton and Wedgwood started producing pineapple-shaped teapots, ewers and jelly moulds. Ornately carved clock cases, bookends and paintings extended the trend from the dining table to other rooms in the house.

Outdoors, the pineapple was represented on carriages and garden temples. After all, if the fruit itself would not last, carved-stone pineapples on plinths would certainly be a lasting reminder to guests and passers-by of the wealth within a manor house.

Image source, Carolyn Stoddart-Scott

But this superstar status was not to last much longer. Steamships started to import pineapples to Britain regularly from the colonies and the prices consequently dropped.

And it wasn't just the middle classes who could afford a pineapple, but - horror of horrors - the working classes could too.

"What was once considered a luxury fruit could now be found cheaply on stalls and barrows in most cities and towns across the country," says Dr O'Hagan. "At this time, working-class people eating pineapples even became used in satirical prints as a visual metaphor for the problem of progress."

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The pineapples so worshipped in earlier times were not only out of favour, but were becoming homogenised. In 1835, horticulturist Sir David Munro listed 52 varieties of pineapple.

Ms Lausen-Higgins says that only five strains remain in cultivation today, and of those, only the Smooth Cayenne and Jamaica Queen are readily available.

"From the 1950s onwards, pineapples were bred so that they fitted neatly into a tin. Fruits with a characteristically pyramidal shape, such as Black Prince, became extinct."

However, some traces of Britain's eccentric love affair with the pineapple remain.

Image source, JOHANNES EISELE

The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall has traditional pineapple pits, heated by decomposing manure. As in times past, growing the fruit is labour-intensive and time-consuming - it takes about seven years to grow a pineapple.

The gardens estimate that restoration and maintenance of the pit, fine-tuning of the growing methodology, and the man hours to look after the fruit means "each pineapple probably cost us in excess of £1,000".

Despite this hefty price tag, Heligan's 15-strong team of gardeners continues to produce the tropical fruit. In summer 2019, the first Smooth Cayenne to fruit at Heligan in more than two years was harvested.

Image source, Lost Gardens of Heligan

And King Pine is still gracing royal palates.

The second pineapple harvested at the gardens was given to the Queen (the first was tasted by staff in case it tasted like manure. It did not) and Prince Charles went to the gardens in 1997 to have a look at the first budding plant.

Image source, Heligan

Once the pineapple was on the menu for ordinary people and therefore off the menu for the nobility, the upper classes sought new ways to distinguish themselves from the masses.

Did they learn their lesson from the short-lived status and money-sucking nature of the pineapple? Maybe they could have invested in precious gems or impressive property.

No, they didn't. Dr O'Hagan says the truly wealthy then set their caps at another luxury and difficult-to-grow food.

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Celery.

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FAQs

Why were pineapples considered a status symbol? ›

They became a sign of hospitality and of generosity. Pineapples would be the centrepiece at dinner parties, not eaten but viewed, almost revered. Some would even rent a pineapple for an evening and carry it around like an accessory! It is clear that having a pineapple was a huge status symbol.

Did people used to rent pineapples? ›

By the turn of the 19th century, pineapples were being grown commercially, but were still staggeringly expensive, so the rising middle classes seeking to emulate the dinner parties of the rich would often rent a pineapple instead of buying one.

How much was a pineapple in Victorian times? ›

The pineapple made its way to England in the 17th century and by the 18th century, being seen with one was an instant indicator of wealth — a single pineapple could cost the equivalent of $8,000 today.

What family is pineapple in? ›

Bromeliaceae, the pineapple family of the flowering plants (order Poales), with more than 3,000 species across 56 genera. All but one species are native to the tropical New World and the West Indies.

What is pineapple theory? ›

A pineapple is positive emotions within becoming positive emotions around. A pineapple is positive emotions within becoming positive emotions around.

What is a pineapple quote? ›

Be a pineapple: Stand tall, wear a crown, and be sweet on the inside.

What is the pineapple secret? ›

On a cruise ship, the secret symbol of an upside-down pineapple is regularly used as a code for swinging or “wife-swapping”. In most cases, an illustrated and upside-down pineapple is fixed to the cabin door of a guest interested in swinging and partner swapping.

Does the pineapple myth work? ›

That being said, the myth that pineapples make your fluid tastes better might not be entirely false. At the end of the day, your diet has a profound effect on any bodily fluid, whether it be saliva, sweat, urine, ejaculate, or vaginal fluid.

What did pineapples used to be called? ›

Pineapples were harvested by the native tribes and spread throughout South and Central America. When Christopher Columbus landed in the new world in 1493, the Spaniards named the fruit “piña” due to its resemblance to a pinecone.

Does pineapple mean royalty? ›

The pineapple became associated with royalty in Europe. The leaves on the top of the fruit are called the crown, so the pineapple certainly functions well as a symbol for kings.

Does pineapple mean wealth? ›

The pineapple has always been associated with prestige and luxury due its exotic appearance. It first appeared in Britain in 1668, gaining notoriety when Charles II used it as part of a public relations opportunity.

When did the Big Pineapple burn down? ›

Built as a tropical tourist attraction, the Big Pineapple has seen its share of hard times throughout its 40-year history. In 1978, the Pineapple burned down during an attempted robbery.

Are pineapples male or female? ›

Each fruitlet develops from a hermaphrodite flower, which is self-sterile although it has both male and female parts. Self-sterility is advantageous in terms of fruit quality and palatability. Each fruit is borne on a peduncle, which is an extension of the stem of the pineapple plant. Fruits can vary in size.

Is pineapple male or female? ›

Bromelain, the enzyme in this fruit, can amplify T-levels and increase sex drive. The benefits of pineapple sexually can be useful for both men and women. In men, pineapple can help with testicular and erectile dysfunction. For women and men, the fruit can be a notable libido booster.

Is there a pineapple Emoji? ›

Unicode details for Pineapple (🍍) emoji.

Who said be a pineapple quote? ›

Inspiration for this book came from the popular quote, "Be a Pineapple, Stand Tall, Wear a Crown and Be Sweet on the Inside" by Katherine Gaskin.

What does holding a pineapple upside down mean? ›

A Symbolic Gesture of Welcoming

But now, it signifies welcoming another person into your home or business with open arms. So next time you see an upside-down pineapple, know that they mean welcome and hospitality towards others which makes them an excellent addition to any room.

What pineapple means in slang? ›

In recent years, the pineapple emoji has been adopted on Snapchat to mean a “complicated” relationship status.

What does pineapple mean in marriage? ›

If you're not familiar with that term, it means you are open to engaging freely in sex. Image. Upside down pineapples aren't just a cruise thing; the symbol is also known on land for swinging/wife swapping.

Why do ladies love pineapples? ›

This delicious fruit helps women fight inflammation and several health-related issues. Pineapples are also rich in multiple healthy compounds that strengthen a woman's body. This sweet fruit enhances bone mass density and offers anti-cancer effects and the required dose of nutrients during pregnancy.

What does pineapple mean NSFW? ›

The word “pineapple” is often used as a stand-in for sex—so, if you're texting your partner and things get a little NSFW, use the 🍍 emoji to get your message across.

Does the pineapple trick work for guys? ›

While many people might recommend gulping down a few glasses of pineapple juice before oral sex for sweeter sperm, that juice probably does nothing at all. While not much research has been done on the subject, the composition of sperm does not change dramatically, clinical sexologist Lawrence Siegel told Elite Daily.

Are pineapples asexual? ›

Propagation - Commercially the pineapple plant is propagated by vegetative material, an asexual reproduction, without new combinations of genes. However, sexual reproduction is feasible as seeds are produced in the fruits if cross pollination between cultivars occurs, naturally or under controlled conditions.

What is queen pineapple? ›

The Queen pineapple (Formosa variety, Ananas comosus [Linn.] Merr.) is known as the sweetest pineapple in the world. The fruit has a distinct aromatic sweetness and crispiness, and is relatively smaller than other pineapple varieties as it only weighs around 450 grams to 950 grams.

What does everyone else call a pineapple? ›

Impact. ByHyacinth Mascarenhas. 3.28.2014. Who would have guessed that the word "pineapple" would split English-speaking countries from the rest of the world back when it was first discovered?

How can you tell if a king is a queen or a pineapple? ›

varieties in pineapple

In case of juice, King has greater amount (13.710 + 0.039) of magnesium than Queen (12.480 + 0.224). In case of pulp, King has greater magnesium (11.080 + 0.038) content than Queen (10.060 + 0.225). In case of peel, King has greater magnesium content (6.030 + 0.038) than Queen (5.660 + 0.225).

What is the power of pineapple? ›

Bromelain, the digestive enzyme in pineapple, has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. This helps when you have an infection, like sinusitis, or an injury, like a sprain or burn. It also offsets the joint pain of osteoarthritis. The vitamin C in pineapple juice also keeps inflammation levels low.

Where is the Big Pineapple now? ›

The Big Pineapple is a heritage-listed tourist attraction at Nambour Connection Road, Woombye, Sunshine Coast Region, Queensland, Australia. It was designed by Peddle Thorp and Harvey, Paul Luff, and Gary Smallcombe and Associates.

How much is the Big Pineapple worth? ›

Owen Jacques. A trio of Brisbane millionaires has paid $5.8 million for the Big Pineapple at Woombye on the Sunshine Coast.

Why did the Big Pineapple closed? ›

Its popularity was waning by 1996, when it was purchased by Roughend Pineapple Pty Ltd. By 2003, it owed the Australian Taxation Office $500,000 and was so far in debt it was facing the possibility of sale or closure. In 2009, it went into receivership.

What state has the pineapple as a symbol? ›

A sign of hospitality across the South and the Caribbean, the pineapple was, historically, a rare and luxurious fruit. Before modern technology and fast transportation, it symbolized extravagance and wealth because fresh pineapple was so hard to come by.

Why was pineapple important in the Columbian Exchange? ›

The Native Americans believed that it aided digestion.

What does pineapple mean in social media? ›

The word “pineapple” is often used as a stand-in for sex—so, if you're texting your partner and things get a little NSFW, use the 🍍 emoji to get your message across.

What does a pineapple tattoo mean? ›

In the American South, for example, the fruit is considered a symbol of warmth, welcome, and hospitality, so a pineapple tattoo may represent a sense of home or something personally familiar. They can also symbolize affection, so it's a great idea for a couple or best friend tattoo.

What city is known as the Big pineapple? ›

Honolulu – The Big Pineapple

Possibly a play on New York City's renowned nickname, The Big Pineapple is one of several nicknames for the capital of Hawaii, and it's more than just a play on words.

What do Hawaiians call pineapples? ›

In the Hawaiian language, pineapples are referred to as 'hala kahiki' or foreign hala. 'Hala' is another type of fruit, which closely resembles a pineapple. The last pineapple cannery in Hawaii, Del Monte, closed its factory in 2006.

How did Christopher Columbus describe the pineapple? ›

Christopher Columbus

Nearby were piles of freshly gathered vegetables and fruits, including pineapples. The European sailors ate, enjoyed and recorded the curious new fruit which had an abrasive, segmented exterior like a pine cone and a firm interior pulp like an apple.

Why is the big pineapple so important? ›

The Big Pineapple is an iconic food-tourism destination, with a history of showcasing and celebrating Queensland's world-class produce. In the Big Pineapple's heyday, it was the nation's most popular tourism attraction, and is now making a come-back, with food again at the heart of our tourism offer.

What does the pineapple symbolize in Italy? ›

Often mistakenly referred to as “The Pineapple,” La Pigna is a traditional Italian symbol of abundance and quality and has become the symbol of Federal Hill. Another version of La Pigna can be found on top of the water fountain in DePasquale Plaza.

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