Ananas. That is the name of the fruit that contains bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down proteins. Known for its tropical and exotic feel, this fruit has also found itself deep in controversy over its status as a pizza topping, dividing gastronomic communities all over. Yet, there is also another thing this fruit has stirred, that is its weird-sounding name in English. What on earth is a “pineapple”?
This fruit is nothing like that of an apple nor pine, resembling nothing like either entity. Instead, this ananas is actually identified as a type of berry. A great many other languages in Europe and the Middle East call this fruit “ananas”, but not English. Why is that the case?
Pineapples, to Europeans, started off as a fairly new, strange, and exotic fruit. Originating in the Americas, Europeans may not have heard or knew anything about that fruit’s existence, let alone knew that they could actually eat it. So fascinated the Europeans were, they tried to cultivate it back in European soil. But the pineapple, being largely found in the tropics, required, well, a tropical climate to grow. Cultivation was only successful upon the invention of greenhouse horticulture, first developed near Leiden by Pieter de la Court in 1658.
The ananas was thought to originate from the Tupi word nanas, meaning “excellent fruit”. So widely adopted by languages in many places of the world, it also became the genus name for the pineapple, with the full species name being Ananas comosus, with comosus meaning “tufted”, referring to the stem of the plant.
While the origin of ananas was fairly direct, it is time to address the elephant in the room. The pineapple looks somewhat like a pine, but nothing like an apple. So what gives?
There is actually a little disagreement in the first appearance of the word pineapple in the English language. While the Oxford English Dictionary lists 1714 as the year of first appearance, other sources point towards 1568, in a translation from the French account of a Hoyriri, a fruit cultivated and eaten by the Tupinambá in what is today Rio de Janeiro. This account is believed to be of a pineapple., in which the fruit was described as “Nana made in the manner of a pine apple”.
This etymology most likely refers to the pinecone-like appearance of the pineapple. But of all fruits, why apple? There does not seem to be an explanation for that element in the compound word “pineapple”, but it could likely point towards the cone part of the pinecone. These words might have been used interchangeably by English speakers, as there was a mention of ananas in the English language in 1613. However, why the pineapple took over the ananas in English, it does not really seem clear.
As a last titbit, you would have heard of the cocktail called a piña colada, which contains pineapple juice and is served (usually) with a wedge of pineapple. Well, it comes as no surprise that one of these words in the name of the cocktail actually means pineapple, that is, piña, a Spanish word for pineapple. While Spanish does use ananás as well, but the word piña sort of sounds like a pine right? Cognates aside, this alludes to the semblance the pineapple has to a pinecone, thereby birthing the word piña in Spanish to mean pineapple as well.