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The Surprising Origins of Pizza’s Most Controversial Topping

Does pineapple belong on a pizza?

It’s an age-old question that ignites fierce and contentious debate among pizza lovers. Detractors fiercely argue that fruit doesn’t belong on a pie. Advocates adore the clashing sweet and salty flavors the pineapple adds to the dish.

To some, the question is just a matter of personal taste. And to a few purists in the pizza world, the pineapple topping is an affront to the Italian dish, a matter of culinary indecency.

Bottom line: to say that pizza fans have strong opinions on this topic is an understatement.  In 2017, we at Slice Pizza conducted a survey on Americans’ pizza preferences and found that the country was split on the issue of pineapple on pizza. Nearly 10,000 people weighed in on our question of whether the fruit topping is appropriate, with 54 percent giving the notion a thumbs down.

Still, whatever your opinion on the topic of Hawaiian pizza, it’s a topic of debate that’s been squabbled over for decades. And it’s origins are more surprising — and not as tropical — as the controversial pie’s moniker suggests.

While our 2017 survey shows that Hawaiians love the pineapple-on-pizza combination, the U.S. Pacific Island is not the place of origin of the pizza that bears its name. Rather, it’s our neighbors to the north, Canada, that can claim boasting rights as the birthplace of the Hawaiian pizza.

Yes, that’s right. Canada — the land of maple syrup, poutine, and ice hockey — is where Hawaiian pizza was born.

According to the BBC, Canadian restaurateur Sam Panopoulos and his brother are the original creators of the dish, inventing the style of pizza at their Ontario dining spot in 1962. The brothers, who immigrated to Canada from Greece in 1954, devised the idea for the pie on a whim, adding some canned pineapple onto a pizza to test how the flavors would play out.

“We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste,” Panopoulos told the BBC in 2017. “We were young in the business and we were doing a lot of experiments.”

Their customers ate it up and the brothers added the dish to their menu, naming it Hawaiian pizza after the canned pineapples they used as a topping.

The trend ultimately took hold and gained traction among diners, with many local pizzerias cooking up their own version of the style for their customers today. However, the dish itself has also been the subject of intense debate, especially in recent years with proponents and opponents alike vocalizing their strong opinions on pineapple pizza on platforms like Twitter and YouTube. Last year, the pineapple pizza debate entered another bizarre chapter after the president of Iceland told a group of high school students he was fundamentally opposed to pineapple pizza and would ban it if he could, igniting a social media firestorm.

The inventor of the dish, Panopoulos, died last year, but his legacy will most certainly live on as the great pineapple-on-pizza debate continues to play out. Because while our survey shows 54 percent of Americans aren’t so keen on the prospect of the tropical fruit topping, it’s also worth noting that there’s still another 46 percent out there who give a thumbs up to the pizza variety that Panopoulos pioneered all those years ago.