QuickCheck: Was the pineapple once a symbol of wealth in Great Britain?

Pineapple is a fruit eaten all over the world. It can be found in various foods, from sweet desserts to savoury pizzas. Whether you like it or hate it, it is generally widely available and affordable.

However, it has also been claimed that pineapples were once so expensive that people rented the fruit to show off at parties and carry it as a status symbol in Great Britain.

Is this actually true?



The speed of sail-powered ships in the 16th and 17th centuries made bringing pineapples from the tropics to Europe almost impossible.

In the 18th Century, the pineapple remained a status symbol, as only the most affluent could afford to cultivate it.

As highlighted in a 2020 BBC article about the rise and fall of the fruit's prestige, The Gentleman's Magazine of 1764 estimated that it cost £150 – roughly £28,000 or RM167,230 today –to set up the infrastructure required to grow a pineapple.

This would include the cost of building a hothouse, keeping it running for a year, and buying the plant. Even then, the return on investment was not guaranteed.

All this meant that a single pineapple would be worth about £60 at the time – roughly £11,000 (RM 65,675) in today’s money – and that value could be even higher if it had shoots and leaves still on it, as that would mean that it was homegrown.

This humble fruit impacted the culture so much that the phrase "a pineapple of the finest flavour" became a way for someone in the 1700s to describe anything that was the best of the best.

It also mentions that in the 1775 comedy play "The Rivals" by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the character Mrs Malaprop confuses the word with "pinnacle" and exclaims that a person "is the very pineapple of politeness!"

The BBC article by Dr Lauren O'Hagan from Cardiff University's School of English, Communication and Philosophy says, "The pineapple was previously unknown in the Old World, so it was free of the cultural resonances of other fruits, which enabled people to create new meanings from it.”

She added that fruits like apples and pomegranates already had considerable cultural weight; the apple was associated with the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, while the pomegranate was linked to the legend of Persephone and Hades.

So yes, that pineapple on pizza and tarts, the very same pineapple on top of the Wimbledon Trophy, one of tennis's most hard-fought trophies, well, it was once the height of posh.





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