Anana, nana, hey, hey...
There was a comment on an earlier post regarding pineapples, and since I try to do my best to please my meager audience, I thought I'd write a bit on pineapples. (I also had pineapple on my mind today because my two year old daughter (who, much to the sadness of her father, eats absolutely no fruits) accidentally tasted pineapple and responded by vomiting). Anyway, on that appetizing note...
The pineapple (Ananas comosus and related species) is one of the oldest American crops. Native to South America (just where is a little unclear, though currently prevailing opinion places it in Venezuela and the Guyanas, rather than the center of the continent), the pineapple appears to have been cultivated and collected by the natives of that region for several thousand years. In addition to the obvious application as fresh fruit, pineapple provides these peoples with alcoholic beverages, fiber, and medicines. The name of the genus derives from the words "nana" and "anana", the native names for the fruit throughout much of South America and the Caribbean. Europeans thought it looked like a pinecone, hence the name "pineapple" (in some European languages, like Spanish, the name is still the equivalent of just "pine", though the Portuguese go with a different metaphor, calling it "abacaxi" after the Guarani word for an ear of maize).
The first European to encounter the pineapple was Columbus (or likely one of his crew, but he gets the credit), in 1493. It was among the first fruits he brought back to Spain. Europeans rapidly adopted the fruit, and it spread both back across the Atlantic to Europe, where it was cultivated in glasshouses, as well as to the various tropical colonies of the European powers, eventually making its way around the world to the Pacific, India, and South Africa. Because of the difficulties involved in producing and shipping the fruit (in the early years of cultivation by Europeans, the fruits were shipped with the entire plants attached to maintain freshness), pineapples were an expensive treat, and acquired a reputation as a symbol of hospitality, because its expense made it a something most people would purchase only for guests. Representations of pineapples in carving and painting are a common theme in art of the period.
The pineapple is one of the few members of the family Bromeliaceae routinely cultivated as food (I can't think of any others off the top of my head). Each plant produces a single large fruit at its apex, actually an inflorescence in which the individual berries have become fused into one large mass. Vegetative propagules form below the primary fruit, and these can be rooted to form new pineapple plants. Mature plants are a meter or two in width and height.
At the time of its "discovery" by the Europeans, native Americans had developed a large and varied number of land races, each suited to its particular purpose and local climate. Many of these were selected and returned to Europe of the following centuries. William Griffin, in his 1806 Treatise on the Culture of the Pineapple, described ten cultivars he thought to be of value, and dismissed all others as useless and difficult to cultivate (an Andrew Smith appears to have also claimed authorship of this volume, but it is Griffin's name it bears.) Despite the best efforts of many scientists, virtually all of today's pineapple industry consists only of a very few cultivars, developed years ago by South American natives.
A single cultivar, 'Smooth Cayenne', dominates the industry, making up nearly 95% of canned pineapple sold in the United States (mostly produced in Costa Rica and Hawai'i). Called 'Smooth' or 'Lisse' because of the lack of spines on the leaves (although one of its many sports, 'Cayenne de Baronne Rothschild', has reverted to thorniness), 'Smooth Cayenne' was introduced in 1809 from French Guiana by S. Perrotet. Probably due in part to co-evolution because of its massive cultivation, the variety is effected by many of the important diseases and pests of pineapple, but this is offset by the desirable mildly acid flavor and yellow color, as well as uniform size and enough fiber to remain cohesive after canning.
The second most important cultivar is 'Singapore Spanish', which is grown primarily in southeast Asia. It is vigorous and more disease resistant than 'Smooth Cayenne', but the flavor is poor by most standards. Also popular in southeast Asia, and throughout the southern hemisphere, is 'Queen', which exists in a variety of forms. Generally, the fruit is smaller and less fibrous than 'Smooth Cayenne', and yields are lower, but the plant is more cold and disease resistant, and the flesh is flavorful and aromatic. Canning quality is fair at best.
Other regionally important cultivars include "Española Roja', grown in the Caribbean region for fresh consumption, and 'Perola' and 'Perolera', which are produced in South America, primarily Brazil. A recently developed Hawai'ian genotype, MD2 or 'Golden Ripe', has received some interested as well. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of other cultivars are grown around the world for local consumption, but the impact of these on the global market is minimal.
For those of you interested in reading more about pineapple as a crop, Purdue University has a large page adapted from the book 'Fruits of Warm Climates', by Julia Morton (1987).
Update 3/30: I found an entry on some one else's blog concerning pineapples.