The act of putting pineapple on a pizza mixed with ham, cheese and tomato sauce has caused a contentious and polarizing debate about its merits in the pizza world.
The Hawaiian pizza, invented 60 years ago, continues inciting debate with pizza lovers
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
This year marks 60 years since the invention of the Hawaiian pizza. This sweet and salty pizza comprises ham (or bacon), cheese, tomato sauce and the most polarizing ingredient: pineapple. The Hawaiian pizza has been enjoyed by many yet loathed by others. Highbrow pizza connoisseurs dismiss it like an “ugly” stepchild that should never be given a mirror. The pizza has been satirized on shows like Family Guy, Futurama and TeamFourStar.
Chef Anthony Carron refuses to use “garbage canned pineapple tidbits” on his pizzas. Gordon Ramsay loathes having pineapple on pizza. During an episode of The Nightly Show in March 2017, Ramsay was a guest host and was ordering pizza for his studio audience. Someone from the audience suggested ordering Hawaiian pizza, with Ramsay replying contemptuously: “You don’t put fuckin’ pineapple on pizza!” Then Ramsay added to his already “salty” tongue, “What the fuck are you doing?”
Talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel, provided his stance on the “pineapple on pizza” debate during a monologue, declaring, “Pineapples do not belong on pizza! I don’t care where you’re from. Any pizza with pineapple wasn’t a good pizza.” Even the late Anthony Bourdain could not fathom pineapple on a pizza, stating that he would “never defile God’s gift to humanity with the acidic, watery bitterness of pineapple.” Notably, the Hawaiian pizza went against the convention of what a typical pizza is supposed to contain. Nevertheless, despite the wrath the Hawaiian pizza has generated with pizza purists, it continues to be a mainstay in pizza eatery menus.
The Hawaiian pizza: an unconventional history
It is apropos that the Hawaiian pizza, and its unconventional choice of topping, pineapple—has origins that are equally as unconventional. The Hawaiian pizza does not even originate in Hawaii. Instead, the pizza was invented in Canada by a Greek immigrant named Sam Panopoulos. The act of putting pineapple on a pizza mixed with ham, cheese and tomato sauce has caused a contentious and polarizing debate about its merits in the pizza world. According to CBC News in June 2017, Panopoulos was born as Sotirios Panopoulos in Vourvoura, Greece, in 1934. He later immigrated to Canada at age 20. Panopoulos later moved to Chatham, Ontario, before settling in London. He operated several restaurants with his brothers Nikitas and Elias Panopoulos.
Sam started taking an avid interest in how pizzas were made, and began experimenting with several types of pizza at his brothers’ Satellite restaurant in Chatham. Notably, Panopoulos recalled a turning point during a boat stop in Naples, Italy (known as the birthplace of pizza). He saw how pizzas were made and the experience inspired him to create unique pizzas. “Pizza wasn’t known at all, actually,” he said in a 2015 interview with the Atlas Obscura. “Even Toronto didn’t know anything about pizza in those days.” In a February 2017 interview with CBC Radio, Panopoulos would elaborate on pizzas scarcity in the 1950s and 1960s. “Pizza was coming in through Detroit, through Windsor, and I was in Chatham then, that was the third stop. We had a restaurant there. We went down to Windsor a couple of times, and these places, and I said, ‘Let’s try a pizza.’”
The day the pizza world stood still
Then one fateful day in 1962, Panopoulos decided to add pineapple to one of his pizzas. He had been influenced by his restaurant serving Chinese food and the “sweet-n-salty” combinations that were contained in the many dishes served.
According to the Washington Post in June 2017, Panopoulos called his new pizza invention, “Hawaiian,” naming it after the brand of canned fruit he used. Admittingly, he said his “new pizza” idea was not embraced by customers; in the same February 2017 interview, he reflected on the experience telling CBC Radio: “[We] tried to make some pizza. Along the way, we threw some pineapples on it and nobody liked it at first. But after that, they went crazy about it. Because those days nobody was mixing sweets and sours and all that. It was plain, plain food. Anyway, after that, it stays. We sell pizzas in Chatham and in London for the next 40, 45 years.” Panapoulos believes his creation became successful because it offered customers something never experienced before on a pizza. He told the BBC in February 2017 that pizza toppings were limited to pepperoni, bacon and mushrooms: “People didn’t go for a lot of different tastes and foods, you know? The only thing you could find then sweet-and-sour was Chinese, nothing else. Everything else was plain.”
The debate about Hawaiian pizza
Hawaiian pizza has been debated on social media, as well as in articles, television segments—even political leaders have contributed their thoughts. In February 2017, Iceland president, Guðni Jóhannesson, during a visit to a local high school, told students that pineapple did not belong on pizza—and stated that putting the fruit on pizza should be banned. This caused a furor online with Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, coming to the aid of the Hawaiian pizza—posting on Twitter: “I have a pineapple. I have a pizza. And I stand behind this delicious Southwestern Ontario creation.”
Sam Panopoulos responded to Jóhannesson’s unflattering comments about his invention during a February 2017 interview with CBC Radio—guest hosted by Helen Mann: “He can have whatever he wants—I don’t care. Listen, I don’t get nothing out of it. He can do whatever he wants as far as I’m concerned.” Mann later asked Panopoulos if Jóhannesson had the chance to try his Hawaiian pizza (made by Panopoulos), would he be able to change his mind? Panopoulos replied, “I don’t care what he does. He can say whatever he wants. He sells the fish over there, you know, that’s all he does. So he has to put the fish on the pizza.”
Two years after Jóhannesson’s “unsweetened” and premeditated “salty” remarks, he regretted his comments about the Hawaiian pizza, when he appeared on the CBC Radio program, As It Happens. “That’s where the influence of this office sort of, yeah, got the better of me,” he said. “I went a step too far.” Jóhannesson wanted to clarify that if people want to eat pizza with pineapple, that is their choice and right to do so. He just does not believe pineapple is a good topping on a pizza: “I have nothing against pineapples, but when they’re put on [pizza,] they get all sort of mushy.”
Canadians do love Hawaiian pizza!
In November 2021, CBC News reported in an online article that Research Co., a Vancouver research company had conducted an online poll. Their findings revealed 73 percent of Canadians stated they would “probably” or “definitely” eat pizza that contained pineapple. “There is definitely momentum for Hawaiian-style pizza,” said Mario Canseco, president of Research Co., during an appearance on the program, As It Happens, with host Carol Off. “But it’s not the No. 1 choice. When we ask Canadians what they would put on a pizza that they could design, we still see pepperoni, we still see mushrooms, we still see green peppers ranking higher than ham and pineapple.”
Interestingly, the poll discovered that most Canadian provinces would eat pizza with pineapple—with Alberta being the biggest fans of Hawaiian pizza—and Quebec being the least favourite fans of the sweet and salty pizza mixture. The online poll results ranked Alberta at the top with 90 percent polled stating they would eat it. This is followed by BC at 83 percent, Saskatchewan and Manitoba tied at 71 percent, Ontario at 76 percent, Atlantic Canada at 72 percent. Lastly, Quebec finished at the bottom—with 55 percent willing to try Hawaiian pizza. “You still have a majority of Quebec who say, ‘OK, fine, if you only have that pizza, I will eat it,’” Canseco said. “But it’s definitely lower than the rest of the country.”
Pizza Hut Canada celebrates Hawaiian pizza in a unique manner
In July 2021, Pizza Hut Canada, in celebration of the Hawaiian pizza, offered a special limited edition Hawaiian shirt as a giveaway (via Pizza Hut Canada Instagram account). Amy Rozinksy, Head of Consumer Marketing, Pizza Hut Canada, said in a news release the promotion was a unique and fun way to celebrate the polarizing popularity of Hawaiian pizza. “We know that almost one in five Canadians believe Hawaiian pizza originated in Hawaii, when in fact it was developed in Ontario,” she said. “We wanted to celebrate the origins of this polarizing dish the only way we know how: with more pizza.”
The news release stated that other research had been conducted where Canadians (who do not like Hawaiian pizza) mentioned the toppings they preferred on a pizza instead of pineapple: Brussel sprouts, eggs, ketchup and mashed potatoes. Additionally, many Canadians are so passionate about having pineapple on pizza that it would affect their love life and especially how they would select a life partner: “Research shows that [nine percent] of Canadians could never select a partner that has a different opinion regarding pineapple on pizza.”
Panopoulos’ invention lives on
Sam Panopoulos passed away in June 2017 at age 83. Bill Panopoulos, one of his two children (alongside daughter Margie), told CBC News shortly after his father’s death: “He was really proud of his relationship with his family.” Sam was married to Christina Panopoulos for 50 years. Panopoulos had many grandchildren and brothers, whom all helped him operate restaurants in southern Ontario. In the end, Hawaiian pizza continues to be a mainstay on many menus in pizza restaurants worldwide. Pizza franchises like Boston Pizza, Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza, Freshslice Pizza and Panago, have the Hawaiian pizza listed on their menu. In the same CBC Radio interview from February 2017, Panopoulos was asked what other toppings go best with pineapple. He replied, “Those days, the main thing was mushrooms, bacon and pepperoni. There was nothing else going on the pizza. After that, everybody started putting everything on it. You can put sardines on it. You can put salmon in it. You can put green peppers, onions, whatever you want you can put today—and everybody eats it.”
Panopoulos was a risktaker, whose entrepreneurial instincts sought new ways to please customers. Significantly, when Panopoulos made the fateful decision to put pineapple on a pizza it caused a plethora of supporters and detractors. The Hawaiian pizza went against the norms and conventions of what a pizza should be. But most importantly and as a fitting testament to his legacy—despite the naysayers—sixty years later, people are still choosing to eat Panopoulos’ delicious creation.