Hawaiian Pizza Origin: Who Invented It and Why Do People Hate It?

Closeup of pineapple pizza

Written by Tuscan Pizza Team

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April 22, 2023

Hawaiian pizza, a unique blend of savory ham and sweet pineapple, has long been the subject of heated debate among pizza enthusiasts. In this article, we delve into the surprising history of this polarizing pizza variety, tracing its roots back to a Greek immigrant in Canada, looking at the first Hawaiian pizza, the movement to ban pineapple, and more. We’ll also explore the reasons behind its contentious reputation and why, despite its divisiveness, pineapple remains a popular pizza topping choice for many pizza lovers around the world.

The Roots of Pineapple on Pizza

Contrary to what its name suggests, the Hawaiian pizza, with its unique salty combination of ham and the pineapple’s sweetness, did not originate from the tropical island of Hawaii. In fact, this unconventional pizza variety has roots in Canada and was created by a Greek immigrant named Sam Panopoulos in 1962.

The Evolution of Modern Pizza

The contemporary pizza we enjoy today can be traced back to dishes crafted in Naples, Italy, during the 18th and 19th centuries. Italians, especially Neapolitans, are passionate about their pizza. In 2009, the European Union granted Traditional Specialty Guaranteed status to the Neapolitan pizza, safeguarding its authentic recipe and production methods against misuse and imitation.

Click here to learn more about the History of Pizza.

How the Hawaiian Pizza Came to Be

Despite its seemingly tropical origin, the Hawaiian pizza was not an Italian invention, nor did it come from the U.S. island state of Hawaii. Instead, Sam Panopoulos, a Greek immigrant in Canada, was the mastermind behind this polarizing pizza.

Panopoulos and his brothers owned a restaurant in Ontario, where they initially served traditional diner food such as pancakes and burgers. After visiting Naples and discovering pizza, Panopoulos decided to introduce this relatively new dish to North America.

Most pizza toppings consisted of mushrooms, bacon, or pepperoni at that time. Panopoulos experimented with similar toppings but soon ventured into more daring territory. As he introduced Americanized versions of Chinese dishes like sweet and sour chicken—which also incorporates pineapple—Panopoulos decided to take a risk with his pizzas.

He added canned pineapple to a pizza with ham, unsure of the outcome, but soon discovered that the combination of sweet and savory flavors resonated with his customers. These first customers are the original pineapple pizza lovers!

Fresh pineapple sliced on a board

The Hawaiian Pizza Name and Tiki Culture

One possible explanation for the success of Panopoulos’ creation is the growing fascination with Tiki culture during that era.

In 1959, Hawaii officially became an American state, and people across North America were captivated by the island lifestyle. This fascination led to the import of canned pineapple, pineapple slices, and pineapple juice, providing Panopoulos with the essential ingredient for his now-famous pizza.

As for the name, the origin is quite simple: the brand of canned pineapple used by Panopoulos was called “Hawaiian,” and so he named his inventive pizza in its honor.

Panopoulos used pizza marketing to make his sweet and savory flavor a staple in pizza recipes around the world!

The Hawaiian Pizza Controversy

Since its inception in Canada, Hawaiian pizzas have taken the world by storm. Despite its global appeal, this unique combination of sweet pineapple and savory ham remains a contentious topic among pizza aficionados.

A 2017 YouGov poll revealed that while 82% of respondents enjoyed pineapple, only 53% liked it on their pizza. In fact, 29% of those surveyed hated the idea of pineapple on pizza.

Breaking with Tradition: The Debate Over Pineapple on Pizza

One primary argument against Hawaiian pizza is that it breaks with tradition—fruit, aside from tomatoes, has no place on a pizza. Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson, the President of Iceland, even jokingly suggested that he would ban pineapple on pizza if given the chance. This statement prompted a flurry of Hawaiian pizzas being sent to the Icelandic Embassy in London and a passionate defense of Canada’s culinary contribution by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter.

The “Iceland incident,” as it has been dubbed, is in good jest, with the fundamentally opposed Icelandic President saying, “As much as I do not like pineapple on pizza, the individual freedom of having the topping of your choice overrides that.”

Master Pizzaiolo Franco Pepe’s Take on Pineapple Pizza

Franco Pepe, a renowned pizzaiolo from Caiazzo, Italy, has been named the best pizza maker in the world multiple times. Despite his traditional roots, Pepe has not shied away from using pineapple as a topping, even winning an award for his take on the controversial pizza.

In an interview with La Cucina Italiana, Pepe suggested that the reason many people are against pineapple on pizza is the clash of flavors between the fruit and the tomato sauce. He explained that the combination of acidity from the pineapple and the tomato sauce can result in poor taste and digestibility. Additionally, the use of canned pineapple packed in syrup with added sugars has contributed to the negative perception of pineapple on pizza.

Pepe’s award-winning pineapple pizza uses fresh fruit and serves it cold, wrapped in prosciutto ham, allowing the natural taste of the pineapple to shine through.

A Look at Popular Pineapple Pizza Variations

The classic Hawaiian pizza, featuring ham and pineapple, is just the beginning. Pineapple pizza has evolved over the years, giving rise to a variety of unique and delicious creations. Some popular variations include:

  • Tropical Heatwave: Spicy jalapeños or pepperoncini peppers are added to the traditional Hawaiian pizza, creating a fiery kick that contrasts with the sweet pineapple.
  • BBQ Chicken and Pineapple: This twist on the classic Hawaiian pizza combines sweet, smoky BBQ sauce with grilled chicken and pineapple for a mouthwatering combination.
  • Pineapple and Prosciutto: Swapping out the ham for thin slices of Italian prosciutto adds a refined and delicate touch to the traditional pineapple pizza.

Another common variation is simply swapping ham with bacon.

Party pineapple

Influential Voices Weigh In on the Pineapple Pizza Debate

The pineapple pizza debate has attracted the attention of numerous influential figures. From celebrity chefs to political leaders, many have weighed in on the controversial topic. Here are a few notable opinions:

  • Gordon Ramsay: The fiery celebrity chef has expressed his disdain for pineapple on pizza, going so far as to declare it a crime against Italian cuisine.
  • Justin Trudeau: The Canadian Prime Minister has taken a more diplomatic approach, stating that he enjoys a good Hawaiian pizza from time to time.
  • Jamie Oliver: British chef and TV personality Jamie Oliver has expressed his support for pineapple pizza, acknowledging the delicious interplay of sweet and savory flavors.

The Impact of Pineapple Pizza on the Pizza Industry

Despite the ongoing debate, pineapple pizza has undeniably left its mark on the pizza industry. Its popularity has inspired pizza makers worldwide to experiment with unconventional toppings, pushing the boundaries of what is considered traditional pizza. This spirit of innovation has led to the creation of other unique pizza varieties, such as dessert pizzas and fusion-inspired pies.

Moreover, pineapple pizza has become a staple on pizzeria menus across the globe. It demonstrates the power of culinary creativity and the potential for diverse ingredients to create memorable flavor experiences.

Finding Common Ground

While the debate over pineapple pizza may never be fully resolved, it’s essential to acknowledge the broader significance of this polarizing pie. The story of pineapple pizza is a testament to the power of culinary experimentation and the limitless possibilities when it comes to creating delicious and satisfying food combinations.

Ultimately, whether or not one enjoys pineapple on pizza is a matter of personal preference. What is undeniable, however, is the impact this unconventional topping has had on the pizza industry and the world of culinary exploration.

Personally, I am a large fan of this delicious southwestern Ontario creation.

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