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Post: The Margin: This National Pizza Day, pineapple could give pepperoni a run for its money

When it comes to pizza toppings, is pineapple quickly becoming the new pepperoni?

Such might be the key takeaway from a new National State of Pizza report from Slice, the food-ordering app that works with 18,000 pizzerias across the country. The report found that pizza orders with pineapple — perhaps the most controversial and divisive of all toppings — surged by 76% in 2021, based on Slice data.

“Tastes are changing and people are getting more experimental,” said Abe Nasrallah, an executive with Slice, which released the study to time with National Pizza Day on Feb. 9.

“Tastes are changing and people are getting more experimental.”

— Abe Nasrallah, executive at Slice

Nasrallah is quick to note that pepperoni is “king of the pizza world” and remains the most popular of toppings by far. Pineapple ranks in the 15th spot, behind such toppings as mushrooms (which claims the no. 2 spot), sausage (no. 4), green peppers (no. 8) and even spinach (no. 13).

Still, the rise of pineapple might be considered surprising, given how often it has been maligned as a pizza topping. You’ll find pineapple-on-pizza haters aplenty on social media, with one particularly anti-pineapple “activist,” who goes by the moniker Pizza Activism, leading an entire global campaign. In one recent Instagram post, Pizza Activism spotlighted a welcome mat with the following inscription: “If you like pineapple on pizza, you are not welcome.”

There are also no shortage of pizza professionals who decry the use of pineapple as a topping. “It’s a little too sweet…It doesn’t play nicely with everybody else,” says Michael Ayoub, chef and owner of Fornino, a New York City pizza restaurant with multiple locations.

“It’s a little too sweet…It doesn’t play nicely with everybody else.”

— Chef and veteran pizza-maker Michael Ayoub on pineapple as a topping.

Not that pineapple-on-pizza fans are keeping quiet. Take Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who shared his passion for the topping (paired with ham — the classic Hawaiian pie, in other words) in an Instagram post. “Pineapple on pizza is MY JAM,” he wrote. (Though in the same post, he also noted: “keep in mind, I’m the guy who likes to put tequila and brown sugar in my oatmeal.”)

Another way of looking at the pineapple-on-pizza divide: A 2019 U.S. survey found that 12% of respondents said the fruit was among their three favorite toppings. But that same survey found that 24% of respondents said pineapple was among their least favorite toppings.

It was the invention of the Hawaiian pie decades ago that brought pineapple to the fore as a pizza topping in the first place. But as it turns out, no Hawaiians were involved in the creation of the one-of-a-kind pizza. Instead, Sotirios “Sam” Panopoulos, a Greek native who settled in Canada and became a successful restaurateur, is credited with coming up with the dish. And he was the first to admit that it started as a lark.

“We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste,” he said in a 2017 interview. (Panopoulos died that same year at age 82.)

Obviously, the Hawaiian pie caught on — at least with a small segment of the pizza-loving public. But what’s behind the more recent pineapple boom?

“Pineapple on pizza is MY JAM.”

— Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

As Slice’s Nasrallah notes, pizza eaters are getting more adventurous. And that applies not just to toppings, but also to entire pizza styles. The Slice report, for example, noted that New Haven pizza, a regional style (also known as “apizza”) that is decidedly crispier than, say, the traditional New York pizza, is starting to trend, with orders for it increasing by 163% in 2021.

Arthur Bovino, a pizza expert who works on editorial content for Ooni Pizza Ovens, a prominent manufacturer, says the current pineapple boom may be explained by the fact the trend has gone beyond the Hawaiian pie. He notes that the fruit can be pickled or roasted and then used as a topping with a little more depth.

Plus, Bovino says that different fruits are finding their way on pizza as part of a broader rethinking of what constitutes a good topping.

“You have people in Sweden putting bananas on pizza,” Bovino says. (And trust us: Bovino isn’t kidding — the Swedes apparently love their bananas.)

A woman holds a placard reading “Only pineapple in the pizza is against nature” as people parade during the Milan Pride 2019 event, which honored the LGBT community.

Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

Pineapple can also be combined with other ingredients beyond ham.

“Some pizza-makers pair the sweetness of the pineapple with spicier meat topping to get a more intriguing and balanced flavor profile –– a little sweet, a little heat,” says Rick Hynum, editor in chief of PMQ Pizza Magazine, a trade publication.

Sure enough, among the latest offerings from Pizza Hut

is a Spicy Lover’s Hawaiian Chicken pie, pineapple naturally included. A spokeswoman for the chain also noted that pineapple is one of its most popular toppings in general.

Domenico “Mimmo” Tolomeo, the chief pizza maker at Zazzy’s, another New York City-based chain, says the hate it/love it debate over pineapple as a pizza topping may itself be driving the trend.

“I think it just makes the people in the middle say, ‘What’s this all this about?’” Tolomeo observes. From there, he says it’s not long before some will try a pie with pineapple — and a few may ultimately stick with it. (For his part, Tolomeo hasn’t yet offered pineapple as a topping, but he’s contemplating creating a pie with a pineapple-based sauce.)

Ultimately, many pizza pros say regardless of what they think of pineapple as a topping, they can’t ignore the demand from customers.

When sisters Ardiana and Zana Dautaj opened Spinachio Pizza in North Haledon, N.J. a couple of years ago, they didn’t plan on offering pineapple as a topping. But then came the requests. “People kept asking,” says Ardiana, who admits the sweet-and-salty combo is not her thing.

Now, the Hawaiian pie, with pineapple and ham, is one of Spinachio’s strongest sellers — so much so that the sisters are moving beyond pizza with their pineapple offerings. “We even have a Hawaiian calzone,” says Ardiana.

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