I was born in the seventies, but my first childhood memories of pineapples were from the iconic, 1930s singer Carmen Miranda. I remember watching, mesmerised, the Portuguese/Brazilian dancing her way into Hollywood fame, while wearing enormous and striking fruit hats. The film star and I have not much in common besides our heritage (have you seen both our moves?), yet she might have had influence on the peculiar fact that whether I am at a food market, a homeware, or a clothing store, I navigate towards pineapples like a moth to bright lights. I’m just smitten about the king of fruits, and not only for its sweet aroma and golden nectar, but I’m mostly attracted for the way its sharp crown and thick skin stands up tall and confident amongst all other produce.
In Asia, I feel surrounded by the tropical fruit more than ever before, so I decided to find out its symbolisms, cultural meanings, and why pineapples are items very much in vogue at the moment.
The once exotic food is said to originate from South America, where plantations were found as early as in the 15-th century. Brought by Columbus to European countries, due to colder climates pineapples were cultivated in hot houses called pineries. Much like sugar, before it became an item of the masses, the fruit was once a commodity of privilege. It was also considered a symbol of hospitality, where the fruit was used to decorate home entrances as a sign of welcoming guests, and at the same time showing off the families high status.
In my native culture, abacaxi (in Portuguese) is used manly in drinks, such as freshly squeezed juices and smoothies (commonly served with condensed milk and inside the actual carved fruit), as well as alcoholic cocktails such as caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink made out of macerated sugarcane alcohol, actual sugar, fruit and crushed ice.
Just like in Chinese culture, where Feng Shui is a belief system that attracts good fortune through a harmonious environment, pineapple tarts are too consumed on Chinese New Year as a tradition to attract well-being and success. In several Chinese dialects, the word for pineapple means “incoming fortune”, and sounds like “the arrival of prosperity”.
Western societies use the fruit in a variety of recipes and scenarios, such as pizza topping, burgers, chutneys, ice creams, cakes, drinks, and jams. And because of a powerful active enzyme called bromelain, which is only found in pineapple’s flesh and stem, the fruit can be used as a meat tenderiser, too.
While in the Philippines, the textile fibre produced from pineapple leaves are commonly used as the material for traditional clothes, in Sri Lanka the fruit is used in fragrant, coconut milk based curries. In Thailand, pineapple is an essential ingredient of one of the most traditional dishes - and my absolute favourite - fried rice.
While in the adult world pineapples make to the top aphrodisiac list of foods, claiming to improve men’s impotence (and even altering oral sex taste), doctors assure the antioxidants in pineapple, such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, copper, zinc, and folate have properties that affect both male and female fertility, being recommended for those trying to conceive. Due to powerful enzymes, the fruit extract is also used as a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling agent, and apparently, if taken regularly, it helps prevent blood-clots, asthmas, autoimmune diseases, sinus infections, bronchitis and even cancer.
In the fashion world, Lyn Rosemarin, Founder of Singapore clothing brand KBLU Swim, believes pineapple prints have being used on homeware and fashion clothing as a way to represent summer, as well as due to the fact its bright colour has suited Pantone trend board for the last few seasons.
I’m hoping the current trend doesn’t disappear anytime soon, but if does, rest assured I will not be walking around Singapore streets wearing a majestic fruit hat on my head. I’ll be very happy to partake in a Pina Colada refresher, anytime, though.