I am half Italian, and I was born in Venice, Italy. I’ve also visited the birthplace of pizza, Naples. I spent three days eating pizza until I could have no more, and then went to Rome. I even managed to eat a pizza at the precise restaurant where pizza was invented.
I have also spent a considerable portion of my life in London, during which time I discovered a peculiar phenomenon. You could buy pizza with pineapple as a topping.
This was new to me, something that you cannot find in Italy.
However, it is not that new an argument! The pineapple on pizza argument has been around since the 1970s when the dish first became popular. Though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why people started putting pineapple on their pies, some believe it was because Hawaii influenced American culture at the time. The state is known for its tropical fruits, and pineapples are commonly used in Hawaiian cuisine. Whatever the reason, pineapple on pizza has become a divisive issue, with some people loving it and others hating it.
Over the years, I have discussed with various people, none who see anything wrong with having pineapple on pizza. And, at first look, there is nothing wrong. If you like your pizza like that, and someone is willing to make it, then why not? Why not have the pizza the way you personally like, vs. following a known recipe?
So, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to pizza. And trust me when I say this: pineapple does not belong on pizza.
Now, before you get all up in arms about how pineapple is a delicious topping for pizza, let me explain why it doesn’t work. Pizza is a dish that is all about balance. The dough, the sauce, the cheese, and the toppings must work together in harmony to create a delicious pizza. Pineapple throws off that balance.
The sweetness of the pineapple competes with the acidity of the tomato sauce, resulting in a pizza that is neither sweet nor savory. The pineapple also prevents the cheese from melting properly, so you end up with clumps of cheese instead of a smooth and creamy texture. Lastly, the pineapple juices make the dough soggy, which is a huge no-no in the world of pizza.
Despite the detractors, plenty of people love pineapple on pizza. For many, the sweetness of the fruit is a welcome contrast to the savory toppings and cheese. Others enjoy the crunchiness of the pineapple and the way it pairs with the dough. And some people simply like the pineapple flavor, regardless of whether it goes well with other ingredients.
Of course, the next logical question is how much else can you add or remove from a pizza and still have a pizza? My company Mäd has a client that revenues over $50m per year selling pizza in South-East Asia. In one of their pizzas, there is a combination of crab and ham, with a deep-fried crust and cheese-filled edges.
Again, nothing wrong with this per se, obviously, that is what the market (i.e. the thousands of consumers) want — but it is definitely not Italian food.
But, while it is okay, does it mean that this is as good as the original Italian recipes for pizza? And if we accept that there are no culinary rules, why not eat Lasagna for breakfast, or have cereal for dinner?
The answer is simple: some things just work better than others. And while you can stray from the traditional recipe, often it is best to just stick with what works, and to understand the traditions truly, before you start to innovate.
In Italy, there is a saying that goes “Cucina povera”, which translates to “poor kitchen”. It is used to describe the traditional cooking of the rural poor, where the ingredients were simple, and the dishes were created out of necessity rather than culinary creativity.
These days, Italy is one of the world’s leading nations for gastronomy, with some of the best chefs in the world, and Michelin-starred restaurants.
However, the traditional recipes from “cucina povera” are still very much alive, and are cooked in homes all over the country on a daily basis. There is a sense of pride in cooking these dishes, and they are seen as a way to connect with our heritage and roots. They are part of our culture, and our identity.
I think this is why pineapple on pizza is so controversial. It is seen as a disrespect to our traditions, and a sign of ignorance towards our culture. It is not that pineapple on pizza is bad; it is just that it is not Italian. And, in a way, I think that is why Italians will never fully accept it.
One solution here is that what has happened, with the rapid increase in population across the world, is that the ability of the average person to discriminate between what is truly good food, made with fresh ingredients, and things that you should not feed to farm animals, has deteriorated.
Take, for example, the humble tomato. In Italy, the San Marzano DOP tomato is used in pizza and other dishes. It is a specific type of tomato that is grown in the Agro Nocerino Sarnese, south of Naples. The climate there, with its volcanic soil, is ideal for this particular type of tomato.
The San Marzano DOP has a deeper, sweeter flavor than other tomatoes and a lower water content — meaning that it does not make the pizza soggy.
It is also more expensive than other tomatoes, so you will not find them used in mass-produced pizzas or sauces.
The reality is that, unless you are eating pizza in Italy (or at a pizzeria that only uses the highest quality ingredients), you are probably not eating real Italian pizza. You are eating a cheap knock-off, made with inferior ingredients.
And this is fine, if that is what you want. But it is important to be aware of what you are eating to make an informed decision.
So, the next time someone offers you a slice of pizza with pineapple on top, think about whether this is Italian food that you are eating.
Outside of Europe, many Western societies do not have a strong culture of food, especially the North American continent. Visiting a supermarket in America or Canada, the reasons become clear. People value convenience over quality. They would prefer a pre-made meal that they need to heat up, and thus only spend 10-15 minutes preparing, vs making something that takes 90 minutes but is healthier and tastier.
You can also understand this from the language. The phrase “made from scratch” only has significance when this is not the default behavior of a home chef. In Italy, it would simply not make sense to say a phrase like this, because you would never serve ready-made meals to guests.
At a deeper philosophical level, this is a debate between relativism vs realism. Is something good just because I think it is, or is there an objective measure that is separate from whoever is making the value judgement?
Several arguments can be made for both relativism and realism. For example, some may argue that relativism is more tolerant because it allows different cultures and individuals to have their own morality and values. On the other hand, others may argue that realism is more objective and therefore provides a better foundation for making decisions — especially in a globalized world where cultures often meet and merge.
There is an argument that the modern world is suffering from a type of social pathology that the French sociologist Emile Durkheim named anomie (literally “lack of rules”). This is where there is no clarity on what is permittable and what is not in society, then behavior can become erratic, and everything can seem meaningless.
This can often happen when an economy collapses, a culture is destroyed, or even during times of prosperity when values that have worked for centuries are thrown away and replaced with materialism.
So it is objectively wrong to have pizza with pineapple, or is it just old-fashioned Italians complaining about it?