The Super Luxe History of Pineapples—And Why They Used to Cost $8000

baibaz/iStock via Getty Images
baibaz/iStock via Getty Images

Though native to South America, pineapples (scientific name: Ananas comosus) made their way to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and it was here that Christopher Columbus first spotted their spiky crowns in 1493. Columbus and his crew took pineapples back to Spain, where everyone loved how sweet this new, exotic fruit tasted. They tried to grow them there, but because pineapples need a tropical climate to grow, Europeans didn’t get very far. The only pineapples they could get their hands on had to be imported from across the Atlantic Ocean, a time-consuming trek that often resulted in bruised, rotten fruit.

Later, in the mid 17th century, pineapples were grown in a few hothouses in England and the Netherlands, in conditions that mimicked the warm temperature and humidity levels needed to produce the fruit. Because they were in high demand and low in supply, only the extremely wealthy could afford pineapples. Monarchs such as Louis XV, Catherine the Great, and Charles II (who even commissioned a painting of his gardener presenting him with a pineapple) enjoyed eating the sweet fruit, and pineapples came to symbolize luxury and opulence.

In the American colonies in the 1700s, pineapples were no less revered. Imported from the Caribbean islands, pineapples that arrived in America were very expensive—one pineapple could cost as much as $8000 (in today’s dollars). This high cost was due to the perishability, novelty, exoticism, and scarcity of the fruit. Affluent colonists would throw dinner parties and display a pineapple as the centerpiece, a symbol of their wealth, hospitality, and status, instantly recognizable by a party’s guests. Pineapples, however, were mainly used for decoration at this time, and only eaten once they started going rotten.

To underscore just how lavish and extravagant pineapples were, consider the pineapple rental market. The fruit evoked such jealousy among the poor, pineapple-less plebs that people could, if they wished, pay to rent a pineapple for the night. Before selling them for consumption, pineapple merchants rented pineapples to people who couldn’t afford to purchase them. Those who rented would take the pineapple to parties, not to give as a gift to the host, but to carry around and show off their apparent ability to afford such an expensive fruit!

Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, artists depicted pineapples to symbolize hospitality and generosity. Napkins, tablecloths, wallpaper, and even bedposts were decorated with drawings and carvings of pineapples in order to make guests feel welcome. If people couldn’t afford to buy or rent the real fruit, they bought porcelain dishes and teapots in the shape of a pineapple, which became hugely popular starting in the 1760s. 

But fast-forward to 1900, when industrialist James Dole started a pineapple plantation in Hawaii, hoping to sell and distribute the fruit with his business, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, which would later become the Dole Food Company. He was hugely successful—for seven decades, his Lana'i plantation produced more than 75 percent of the world's pineapples—and the company is still going strong. Love for the fruit hasn't waned either, and they are still a popular decorating motif. And it's Dole who helped contribute to the pineapple’s evolution from overpriced, luxe commodity to accessible treat for the masses.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

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Apple

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2. Sony Zx220bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones (Open Box - Like New); $35

Sony

For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

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3. Sony Xb650bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones; $46

Sony

This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

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4. Martha Stewart 8-quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker; $65

Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

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Jashen

If you're obsessive about cleanliness, it's time to lose the vacuum cord and opt for this untethered model from JASHEN. Touting a 4.3-star rating from Amazon, the JASHEN cordless vacuum features a brushless motor with strong suction, noise optimization, and a convenient wall mount for charging and storage.

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Evachill

This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

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7. Gourmia Gcm7800 Brewdini 5-Cup Cold Brew Coffee Maker; $120

Gourmia

The perfect cup of cold brew can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but this Gourmia Cold Brew Coffee Maker can do the job in just a couple of minutes. It has a strong suction that speeds up brew time while preserving flavor in up to five cups of delicious cold brew at a time.

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8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90

Townew

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FenSens

Parking sensors are amazing, but a lot of cars require a high trim to access them. You can easily upgrade your car—and parking skills—with this solar-powered parking sensor. It will give you audio and visual alerts through your phone for the perfect parking job every time.

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Noerden

Reusable water bottles are convenient and eco-friendly, but they’re super inconvenient to get inside to clean. This smart water bottle will clean itself with UV sterilization to eliminate 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. That’s what makes it clean, but the single-tap lid for temperature, hydration reminders, and an anti-leak functionality are what make it smart.

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Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

20 Fall Harvest Words and Their Origins

Allie/Unsplash
Allie/Unsplash

Thanksgiving originated as a way to celebrate, and enjoy, all the fruits and vegetables harvested this time of year. But the fall harvest doesn’t let word lovers go hungry: it yields a cornucopia of etymological roots as well. Feast on the bounty of these seasonal word origins.

1. Artichoke

Artichoke ultimately comes from the Arabic al-harshuf, “the artichoke.” The word, and plant, passed into Spanish, Italian, and then English, as archicokk, in the 1530s. Speakers tried to explain its unusual name with folk etymologies: The plant’s center would choke anyone who tried to eat it, or it chokes the growth of other plants in the garden. These folk beliefs are preserved in the modern spelling.

2. and 3. Scallion and Shallot

Scallions and shallots may be two different species of onion, but they share a common root: the Vulgar Latin cepa escalonia, the “Ascalonian onion.” Ascalon is modern-day Ashkelon, an Israeli coastal city and a historically important seaport, apparently, for trading the likes of scallions and shallots. The Latin cepa, for onion, is also the source of another name for the scallion, chive.

4. Onion

If we peel back the etymological layers of onion, we find the Latin unio, which named both a pearl and a type of onion. Unio probably sprouts from unus, Latin for “one,” the idea being that this vegetable’s layers all comprise a single whole.

5. Fennel

Fennel looks like an onion, but it’s actually in the carrot family. Appearances, though, are still the key to the origin of this word. Fennel, which is documented in English as early as 700, comes from a diminutive form of Latin faenum, for hay, which the plant’s feathery foliage and aroma evokes.

6. Carrot

Speaking of carrots, this orange vegetable is rooted in the Greek karaton. The origin of the Greek word is unclear. It could be from an Indo-European root ker, for horn, thanks to its shape. Ker could also mean head, possibly alluding to the way the carrot grows—and making a red-headed carrot-top etymologically redundant.

7., 8., 9., and 10. Kale, Collard, Kohlrabi, and Cauliflower

These seasonal superfoods have a super-etymology. Latin had a word caulis, for stem, stalk, or cabbage, which produced quite the lexical bumper crop.

Old Norse borrowed caulis as kal, source of the word kale and the cole in coleslaw. In English, cole itself was an old word for cabbage as well as other leafy greens, like colewort, which American English speakers came to pronounce as collard, hence collard greens.

Kohlrabi literally means “cabbage-turnip” in German, cultivating its kohl from an Italian descendant of the original Latin caulis. And cauliflower, from Modern Latin cauliflora, is simply “cabbage flower.”

11. Cabbage

If Latin’s caulis means cabbage, what does cabbage mean? Head, from the Old French caboce, in turn from the Latin caput. It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand why the Romans so named this heavy and round vegetable.

12. Turnip

A turnip is a neep that looks like its been “turned” into its round shape, or so some etymologists guess. Neep comes from the Latin napus, a kind of turnip.

13. Parsnip

This vegetable was once believed to be a kind of turnip, and so was made to look like turnip as a word. (The parsnip is actually related to the carrot while the turnip is related to the cabbage.) Parsnip stems from pastinaca, the Latin name for the vegetable, which may be related to pastinum, a two-pronged tool used to harvest tubers like parsnips.

14. and 15. Radish and Rutabaga

The roots of these roots are “roots.” Radish comes from the Latin radix, a root, both botanically and metaphorically, as we can see in derivatives like radical and eradicate. This radix, according to Indo-European scholars, grows from a more ancient soil: wrad, believed to mean root or branch. Wrad is featured in another vegetal word: rutabaga, which English took from the Swedish rotabagge by the 1780s. Rotabagge literally means “root bag,” with bag a kind of bundle in Old Norse.

16. and 17. Pumpkin and Squash

If you thought turnips and parsnips were all mixed up, then have a look at pumpkin. English immediately carved pumpkin out of French and Latin roots. The word’s ending, -kin, is influenced by a Germanic suffix for "little," also seen in words like napkin. The ultimate root is the Greek pepon, meaning “ripe” and related to its verb for "cook."

A Greek pepon was a kind of melon enjoyed when ripe. And the word melon, squashed from the Greek melopepon, literally means “ripe apple.” So, etymologically, a pumpkin is a melon, which is an apple. Early British colonists applied the word pumpkin—which, to make things more confusing, is technically a fruit—for the type of squash they encountered in the Americas.

Squash has nothing to do with smashing pumpkins. The word is shortened from the Algonquian askutasquash, literally “green things that may be eaten raw,” as the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology glosses it.

18. Potato

You say potato, I say batata. Christopher Columbus is said to have brought the word batata back from his voyages. The batata, probably from the Haitian Taíno language, was actually a kind of sweet potato. Later, Spanish conquistadors brought what we commonly think of as the potato back from South America, where it was called papa in the Quechuan language. Botanically, sweet potatoes and potatoes are completely unrelated, but that didn’t stop English speakers from confusing them by using the word potato as a common term.

19. Yam

Sweet potatoes aren’t a type of potato—and nor are they yams, even if we insist on calling them so. Yam crops up as inany in 1588, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a borrowing of the Portuguese inhame or Spanish igname, possibly from a word in West African languages meaning “to eat.” Because of the slave trade, yam may have been directly borrowed from a West African language in American and Jamaican English.

20. Beet

Beet comes from the Old English bete, in turn from the Latin beta. These words just mean, for a refreshing change, beet. But even the humble beet has its baggage. The word was common in Old English but disappeared from the existing record until about the 1400s. It seems the English language didn’t much want to eat its vegetables in the late Middle Ages.