Does Pineapple Belong on Pizza?
Published: 8th December 2020
Everybody loves Pizza. And if they don’t love it, then they haven’t had the good kind of pizza yet.
Which is why it might seem a little bewildering that one of the most controversial dishes ever created is a variety of pizza. How could you turn so many people against it, when even Chicago’s famous deep-dish has an entire army ready to defend it with their lives, and even those who insist it’s not “really pizza” keep a benevolent outlook, often indulging in a slice or two (even while claiming it has nothing on classic New York or Neapolitan styles).
Apparently by adding some canned pineapple on it.
Hawaiian pizza has as many haters (if not more), as it has lovers, constantly floating between being lauded as “ingenious” and derided as an “abomination”.
Yet it seems to have earned its place in the Pizza Pantheon and doesn’t seem to be going away despite the continuous controversy surrounding it – cemented by the fact that in 2014 the Times magazine included it on their list of The 13 Most Influential Pizzas of All Time".
And, since it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future (and highly likely far beyond that), it’s only fair to learn a little more about the Hawaiian Pizza and maybe give it an unbiased taste, no matter how unorthodox pineapple on pizza may sound.
Who Invented Pineapple Pizza (and Where is it From)?
The fact that amazes many people the most about the Hawaiian Pizza (other than it uses pineapple of all things as a topping) is that it’s not Hawaiian. Even remotely. Literally – the Hawaiian Pizza has nothing to do not only with Hawaii but either of the remaining 49 states of America. And it sure as hell has nothing to do with Italy.
The most controversial pizza to ever exist comes from Canada.
The man who created it is commonly thought to be (at least he claims – or, rather, claimed – he was and while there are some who have disputed his claims, the majority agrees he was telling the truth) Canadian restaurateur of Greek origin Sotirios “Sam” Panopoulos.
Born in 1934, Panopoulos and his siblings (of whom he had four), grew up during the times of the Great Depression, German occupation, and the Civil War.
Needless to say, it was not an easy life, and even though he initially wished to become a dentist and worked hard for his education, by the time he reached the end of his teenage years, it became clear that if he were to ever escape poverty, he would need to seek opportunities outside of his native Greece.
In 1959, 20-year-old Sam and his older brother Nikitas set sail across the Mediterranean Sea. After finally reaching Canada, the Panopoulos brothers changed their place of residence and occupation several times, until finally settling in Chatham, a city southwest of Toronto, and opening a restaurant called Satellite.
The Invention of Hawaiian Pizza
To say that Canada in the ’50s and the beginning of the ’60s knew nothing about what real pizza was like would be an understatement.
The first time Panopoulos witnessed how a pizza was made was in the town of Windsor. Windsor had an advantage over other Canadian towns – it was just across a river from Detroit, so it’s no wonder they were the first to find out what a pizza was.
Their execution though left much to be desired. What they thought of as pizza was a circle of dough (bought in large quantities and made with a technique that had little to do with traditional pizza dough), covered in tomato sauce, cheese, and a topping like pepperoni, bacon, and mushrooms. No thought was spared to important elements of making an actual pizza: the right way to knead the dough, the right type of sauce, baking it for the right amount of time at the right temperature. So no wonder pizza wasn’t particularly popular among Canadians.
And yet, witnessing pizzas being baked in Windsor inspired Panopoulos. At this time Satellite’s menu was a menu of a pretty typical Canadian restaurant menu – pancakes, burgers, fries, etc. And American Chinese for a bit of original flare, which was cooked by an Asian cook he had hired specifically for this cuisine.
So Panopoulos’s hands weren’t really tied by tradition when he started experimenting with pizza – he simply had no idea what they were when he started.
While this may sound preposterous to a true pizza lover, it was this unlimited freedom that allowed Panopoulos to create his magnum opus, so to speak. He tried out multiple combinations to figure out which ones worked (some of his additions – like olives and anchovies – weren’t even that original).
Inspired by the Chinese dishes his restaurant was serving the clients, more specifically by the combination of savoury and sweet flavors often found in Asian cuisine, Panopoulos set out to re-create the same effect with his pizza. And that’s when the pineapple entered the scene. Hawaii had only become a state in 1959 and at the beginning of 60’s it had accrued a reputation of an island paradise, reinforced by soldiers coming home from WWII.
A side-effect of it? The popularization of pineapple, canned pineapple to be precise. Advertisers got the memo and began advertising their products relentlessly throughout Ontario. So much so, in fact, that the most popular canned pineapple brand was called Hawaiian.
Do you get where this is going?
That was exactly the brand of the sliced pineapple Sam Panopoulos used on his newest concoction. The idea was to somewhat recreate Chinese sweet-and-sour pork, with the pineapple responsible for the sweet-and-sour element, and either bacon or ham for the pork.
So that’s why it’s called Hawaiian Pizza (which was the name from the start, according to its creator). Because of the brand, not the state.
What Toppings Are on a Hawaiian Pizza?
The classic toppings for Hawaiian Pizza are simple.
- Canadian bacon,
- and, of course, sliced canned pineapple.
But, unsurprisingly, the dish has been through many variations. As long as you stick to the combo of “cheese and meat and pineapple”, your pizza will likely be dubbed Hawaiian pizza, since what matters is for it to have pineapple as one of the toppings, with everything else being secondary.
The most popular variation is undoubtedly classic American bacon instead of Canadian. But you’ll also find recipes that use pepperoni as the topping or combine Hawaiian pizza with BBQ chicken.
Adding Jalapenos to the “classic” variety also seems to be quite popular, adding an element of heat to the sweet-and-sour combo.
The version that is my all-time favourite is Ham, Pineapple, Sliced Chicken and Jalapenos.
What Goes Well with Pineapple on Pizza?
Quite a controversial question no one seems to have a universal answer to. Some like the classic version but derive all other varieties. Others claim to have started loving the infamous pineapple pizza after trying it in some other, even more unorthodox, combos – like pepperoni or seafood.
This one, you’re going to have to figure out for yourself.
But we’d still advise you to start with the combo that made it the staple it is today – or as close it gets cheese, bacon (either American or Canadian), and juicy slices of pineapple.
If that sounds too plain for you, however, or you just don’t like bacon, you could always go for some chicken or sausage variety.
One piece of advice we’d give? Don’t start with your favorite variety (you love BBQ chicken? Skip the BBQ chicken pineapple pizza) – that has a higher chance of failing for you.
Why Do People Not Like Pineapple on Pizza?
An interesting question that no one can come to a consensus about. The biggest problem seems to be what we’d call “natural aversion”: people have gotten so used to the idea that pineapple on pizza is an abomination that they seem to automatically despise it without ever giving it a fair chance.
The others just aren’t the fans of the sweet-and-sour combo, to begin with. Though the bias seems to be the biggest problem: when one is ready to hate something without giving it a fair shot, they’re far more likely to hate it than they would if they held their minds open.
The famous Pineapple Pizza isn’t Hawaiian at all. In fact, it’s not even American.
The Hawaiian Pizza was created in 1962, in the Canadian city of Chatham (southwest of Toronto) at a restaurant called Satellite by a chef of Greek origin, named Sotirios “Sam” Panopoulos.
The pizza wasn’t a well-known dish in Canada during this period: the first Canadian town to start serving it was Windsor (it was located across the river from Detroit, which is where chefs from Windsor first witnessed the pizza-baking process), but they weren’t really adhering to the rules of the process, and the pizza they baked was quite basic, for the lack of the better word: just a dough (that had little to do with actual pizza dough) topped with tomato sauce (not necessarily pizza sauce) and cheese, along with either some pepperoni or mushrooms.
While this version of pizza didn’t really inspire the locals, it did inspire Panopoulos who – unlimited in his imagination due to the lack of proper knowledge – started experimenting with wild topping concoctions to find something unique to offer Satellite’s guests (among his attempts were also ingredients that are widely used as pizza toppings today – like olives and anchovies – though he was far from the first chef to have tried the idea).
While Panopoulos claims to have called his pizza Hawaiian from the start, its connection to Hawaii is tangential at best. Even the taste wasn’t inspired by Hawaii, but rather Asian American cuisine. One of the “Chinese” dishes Satellite served its guests was sweet-and-sour pork, which was the taste Panopoulos was trying to recreate in the pizza form. The Canadian bacon was to play the role of the pork, while pineapple was supposed to be the sweet-and-sour element.
So where did the name come from? At the beginning of 60’s Hawaii, which had just recently become an American state, was heavily romanticized in the eye of the Canadians as a sort of paradise island. The marketers for sliced canned pineapples got the memo and capitalized on it, running massive ad campaigns in the newspapers throughout Toronto. The marketing was so wide that one of the brands of canned pineapples was even called Hawaiian.
Which was the brand that Sam Panopolus used for his pizza.
Thus Hawaiian Pizza was born.