Pineapple on pizza: unforgivable or unfairly judged?

Pizzas can take a large variety of different forms, such as the simple Neapolitan classics that are the marinara and margherita, the Roman pizza bianca con mortadella or the famous New York-style slice. But there is one that, despite being one of the most well known pizzas in the world, is one of the most controversial dishes on the planet and sparks heated debates between purists and the adventurous: Hawaïan pizza. Is this pizza consisting of tomato sauce, ham, cheese and pineapple as bad as many people say, or is it a symbol of how breaking traditional rules can open the door to creativity?

Contrary to its name, this pizza was created in Canada in the 60s and is said to have got its name from the brand of pineapple used on it, and is said to be a play on the sweet and savoury flavours present in many Chinese dishes. This could be true, although it closely resembles a German dish called Toast Hawaï that predates its pizza counterpart by several years.

Although it quickly gained popularity and spread around the world, this was accompanied by controversy, in part because combining sweet and savoury isn't the most common combination in the West, but also because of how far removed it was from the simplicity of the original Neapolitan pizza. Furthermore, it is closely associated with fast food pizzas, where speed and low cost are prioritised above the quality of the ingredients used. This means that when most people think of Hawaïan pizza, they conjure up images of canned pineapples floating around in some unknown liquid, cheap ham and bland tomato sauce, far removed from their highest forms of quality.

Pizza being an Italian dish, it is quite understandable that seeing your national pride become extremely popular in an almost unrecognisable form must be quite difficult. So when you combine its worldwide fame, unusual flavour combinations and fast-food image, it is no surprise that Hawaïan pizza is first in the firing line for any pizza enthusiasts. But does this mean that pineapple doesn't have its place on pizza?

Firstly we must address the combination of fruit with meat and cheese. There is an old Italian saying that goes: Al contadino non gli far sapere, quanto sia buono il cacio colle pere – Don’t tell the peasant how good cheese is with pears. This goes to show that not only is cheese with fruit common in the peninsula, it was even regarded as a secret that the wealthy didn't want to share with the poor, for fear of having them indulge in this delight. In the right season in Rome, you can also find pizza prosciutto e fichi, which is a cured ham and fig pizza, where you can see the combination of fruit and meat is greatly appreciated.

Photo by bckfwd / Unsplash

Where Hawaïan pizza deviates from most dishes with fruit, meat and cheese is its use of tomato sauce. A staple on many pizzas, it can be the star of the show, act as the foundation for other flavours and bring sweetness and acidity to balance everything out. However, pineapple is also sweet and acidic, like many fruits, so adding it to a dish containing tomatoes can seem almost redundant.

So maybe it is possible to allow pineapple to shine on a pizza as long as it is of good quality, paired with some form of cured meat or salty cheese and without adding tomato sauce.

Pizza being a perfect blank canvas to experiment with, you could interpret a dish like tacos al pastor, a Mexican staple consisting of shawarma inspired pork served with pineapple, on a pizza. Anthony Falco, a pizza maker made famous from his work at Roberta's in Brooklyn, has a fantastic recipe for Pineapple Pizza Al Pastor-Style in his book Pizza Czar, which you should definitely try out. He uses tomato sauce as a base which I would personally leave out for the reasons I stated above.

Whether trying to recreate an existing dish or mimicking the mix of fruit and savoury ingredients from Italy itself, there is a place for pineapple on pizza, allowing it to overcome the negative stereotypes surrounding it and placing it as a worthy ingredient to be used. But make sure it is of great quality and there is thought put behind its use. You may not find it on pizzas in Italy, but don't let that stop you from trying out unconventional recipes and let the classic pizzas found all over the Mediterranean country inspire you to create your own version of it. As long as it's delicious and you are enjoying it, that's the only thing that matters!

Matthew Daws

Matthew Daws