Singapore Infopedia

by Dass, Annalisa


Ananas comosus is a fruit whose common name, pineapple, is derived from the Spanish word piña, which means “pine cone”.1 The pineapple’s scaly exterior was said by early travellers to bear a vague resemblance to pine cones.2 Its scientific name came from the Gaurani-Tupi Indians who called it nana.3

The pineapple is a tropical crop that originated from South America.4 It was first introduced to Europe and Asia by the Spaniards and Portuguese in the 16th and 17th centuries.5 In Europe, the pineapple gained the status of a luxury, premium dessert fruit, and was seen as a symbol of cordiality in high society.6

There are different pineapple varieties including the Singapore Spanish pineapple. By the mid-1800s, the pineapple fruit was so easily available in Singapore that there arose complaints of pineapples obstructing landing places and staircases.7 In 1861, slices of pineapple was reportedly sold for one cent each at Raffles Place (Commercial Square).8

The pineapple is a low, terrestrial bush that grows to about 1 m in height. It is a member of the Bromeliaceae family and has a stout, thick stem from which a crown of strap-like leaves are produced.9 The rosette-like leaves are usually dark green with pale, silvery undersides. They have serrated edges and may bear sharp spines. Each pineapple produces a large flower-head consisting of 100 to 200 florets.10 After fertilisation, the florets form individual fruits and begin to swell. As they are so densely packed, the fruits fuse and eventually form a collective fruit when ripe.11 A ripe pineapple weighs about 2 kg on average, depending on the species.12

In Malaysia, the commercial varieties fall into two groups: the raw, fresh-type (Nanas Sarawak and Nanas Moris) and those ideal for canning (Nanas Merah and Nanas Hijau). The Nanas Merah variety includes the Singapore Spanish, Singapore Queen and Singapore Canning.13 In other texts, the numerous pineapple varieties are classified into four main export varieties: Smooth Cayenne (the Nanas Sarawak type), Red Spanish (possibly the Nanas Moris type), Queen (possibly the Nanas Merah type) and Abacaxi. When peeled, the colour of a ripe pineapple ranges from almost white to yellow.14 The flesh is slightly fibrous and very juicy because of its high water content.15 Its flavour is light, sweet and mildly acidic, making it deliciously refreshing.16 Cultivated pineapple fruits do not bear seeds, but in the wild they may be pollinated by bats, insects or humming birds, resulting in immense seed production. While the seeds may have practical benefit for selective breeding, this is an undesirable trait in dessert fruit. Therefore, the inflorescence of cultivated pineapples must be kept covered to prevent pollination.17 The production of pineapples is possible all year round, although research is still needed to further understand inflorescence, growth regulators and conditions that promote natural induction.18

Usage and potential
Although it is usually served freshly sliced, there are many other ways of eating pineapples. A popular Asian dish is pineapple rice, which is traditionally served in a hollowed-out pineapple shell. The pineapple is also widely used to flavour “sweet and sour” dishes and fruit salads.19

Nanas goreng is a tasty Indonesian dessert made of pineapple slices that have been fried in batter and served with a generous helping of cinnamon sugar.20 The Malays make a pleasant appetiser of pineapple, chilies, ghee and sugar called pacheri, while manisan is pineapple served with only sugar.21

Apart from being canned or made into fruit juice, the pineapple is also processed to produce alcohol, pineapple vinegar and citric acid.22 Other pineapple foods include chutneys, pickles and jams.23 The pineapple tart is a popular gift among both the Chinese and Malays during their respective festive occasions.24

Bromelin or bromelain, an enzyme present in ripe pineapples, aids digestion and is known to treat inflammation including joint pain.25 Partially developed pineapple fruits are believed to be poisonous and act as a purgative so violent that it can terminate a pregnancy.26 They are hence generally considered unsafe for consumption.27 Unripe fruit were previously used as a vermifuge, diuretic and treatment for venereal diseases.28

Pineapple leaf fibres are used in the textile and rope-making industries. The fibres are also used to weave the exquisitely intricate fabric of the barong, the national dress of Filipino men. Pineapples contain a protease, papain, which is used as a meat tenderiser. Pineapple juice was also used by the Malays as a cleaning agent when engraving the blade of a kris.29

The Chinese embrace the pineapple as its Chinese name symbolises luck and wealth.  It is one of the must-have foods during Chinese New Year. A live sample is grown at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.30

Pineapples were among the early crops grown in Singapore with Resident John Crawfurd mentioning Singapore a being suitable for its cultivation in 1824 & described as plentiful by 1841.31 There were 'pineries' in the Southern Islands like Pulau Blakan Mati (today's Sentosa) cultivated by the Bugis as well as in the Telok Blangah area.32 In 1849, it was the third most cultivated crop in Singapore by acreage.33 For rubber plantations, pineapple was often grown as a catch-crop, a crop planted and harvested while waiting for the more profitable trees to mature.34

Pineapple trade and the canning industry
The pineapple is one of the most important tropical fruits in world production after bananas and citrus fruits. Due to the short shelf-life of fresh pineapple fruit, its distribution was limited but of high-value. The alternative to selling fresh pineapples was to preserve them in cans.35 The pioneering efforts of canning pineapple in Singapore appears to be shared by three Frenchmen. The first was a Mister Laurent whose business venture in 1875 failed shortly after.36 The second was a war veteran and seaman by the name of Joseph Pierre Bastiani,37 who had significant business success through his exhibition ventures. There was even a legal suit on his trademark brand.38 The third man cited was also a French sailor, M. Bernado, who started canning in a shophouse.39

The pineapple industry grew in Malaya, followed by a complete hiatus during World War II and subsequent increase in the 1970s.40
 Two notable Singapore pineapple kings were Lim Nee Soon and Lee Kong Chian. Lim cultivated pineapple plants in between rows of rubber trees in his plantations as a catch crop, and also established a pineapple canning factory. Lee’s businesses ranged from rubber processing to pineapple canning. He set up Lee Pineapple in 1931.41 In 1933, it was reported that the growing pineapple industry was not regarded simply as a catch crop but a main crop.42

The existing main pineapple-producing ASEAN countries are Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia. A 2005 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations stated that Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia accounted for 80 percent of the canned pineapple supply in the world market. These three countries were also among the top 10 pineapple producing countries in 2003.43
 In 2014, the combined production of pineapples from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia was reported to be 7,208,289 metric tonnes.44

Variant names45
Common name: Pineapple.
Scientific name: Ananas comosus.
Malay name: Nanas.
Other names: Ananas, piña.

Annalisa Dass

1. Betty Molesworth Allen, Malayan Fruits (Singapore: Donald Moore Press, 1967), 210 (Call no. RCLOS 634.09595 ALL); Wendy Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore (Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, 2000), 16. (Call no. RSING 634.6 HUT) 
2. I. H. Burkill, A Dictionary of the Economic products of the Malay Peninsula (Malaysia: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-Operatives, 2002), 149 (Call no. RSEA 634.909595 BUR); Jacqueline M. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 10. (Call no. RSING 634.60959 PIP)
3. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 10.
4. J. L. Collins, “History, Taxonomy and Culture of the Pineapple,” Economic Botany 3, no. 4 (October–December 1949): 335–59 (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website); Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore, 16.
5. D.P. Bartholomew, R.E. Paull, and K.G. Rohrbach, eds., The Pineapple: Botany, Production and Uses (Oxon, UK: CABI Publishing, 2003), 2 (Call no. R 634.774 PIN); Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic products of the Malay Peninsula, 149.
6. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic products of the Malay Peninsula, 149; Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 10.
7. “Correspondence, An Observer,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 5 December 1844, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 12; J. Purvis, “Presentment to the Hon’ble Her Majesty’s Court of Judicature of Prince of Wales Island, Singapore and Malacca,” in Newspaper Extracts and Clippings from the Straits Times and Singapore Journal of Commerce, 1845–1849, 1 (13 May 1848), 2. (Call no. RDLKL 959.573 NEW)
8. “Untitled: Singapore By Day and Night,” Straits Times, 19 January 1861, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore, 16; Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 10.
10. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 10.
11. Allen, Malayan Fruits, 208.
12. Julia F. Morton, “Lychee,” in Fruits of Warm Climates (Miami: Julia F. Morton, 1987); Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 10.
13. Allen, Malayan Fruits, 209; Chin Hoong Fong and Yong Hoi-Sen, Malaysian Fruits in Colour (Kuala Lumpur: Tropical Press, 1982), 22. (Call no. RSEA 634.609595 CHI)
14. Bartholomew, Paull, and Rohrbach, Pineapple, plates 7 to 10; Morton, “Lychee”; P. K. Ray, Breeding Tropical and Subtropical Fruits (New Delhi: Narosa Pub House, 2002), 203, 210. (Call no. R 634.6 RAY)
15. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 11.
16. Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore, 16.
17. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 13.
18. Bartholomew, Paull, and Rohrbach, Pineapple, 69–72, 167–02.
19. Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore, 16; Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 11–12.
20. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 12.
21. Allen, Malayan Fruits, 211; Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic products of the Malay Peninsula, 151.
22. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 12.
23. Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore, 16.
24. “Faridah Plays Host to a VIP,” Straits Times, 10 June 1986, 11; Eunice Quek,  “Pineapple Blooms,” Straits Times, 26 January 2014, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic products of the Malay Peninsula, 152; Albert Y. Leung and Steven Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients: Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics (New York: Wiley, 1996), 100–04. (Call no. R 660.63 LEU); Thiery Conrozier, et al., “A Complex of Three Natural Anti-Inflammatory Agents Provides Relief of Osteoarthritis Pain,” Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, 20, no.1 (Winter 2014): 32–37.
26. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 12.
27. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic products of the Malay Peninsula, 152.
28. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 12.
29. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic products of the Malay Peninsula, 151–52.
30. Daniela C. Zappi, Guides to Gardens by the Bay: Heritage Garden Plants and Recipes (Singapore: Gardens by the Bay, 2013), 34. (Call no. RSING 581.63209595 ZAP)
31. John Crawfurd, “Agriculture of Singapore,” The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, III (1849): 509 (From BookSG); “Extracts from an Unpublished Journal,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 2 December 1841, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
32. John Cameron, Our Tropical Possessions in Malayan India: Being a Descriptive Account of Singapore, Penang, Province Wellesley, and Malacca; Their Peoples, Products, Commerce, and Government (London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1865),   34 (From BookSG); Robert Little, “An Essay on Coral Reefs as the Cause of Blakan Mati Fever, and of the Fevers in Various Parts of the East. Part II. On Coral Reefs as a Cause of the Fever of the Islands Near Singapore,” The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern AsiaII (1848): 573–83. (From BookSG; call no. RRARE 950.05 JOU; accession no. B03014449C)
33. Gilbert E. Brooke, “Botanic Gardens and Economic Notes,” in Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke and Roland St. J. Braddell, One Hundred Years of Singapore, vol. 2 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991), 63–78. (Call no. RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS])
34. “Malaya’s Pineapple Industry,” Singapore Free Press, 4 September 1931, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
35. D.P. Bartholomew, R.E. Paull, and K.G. Rohrbach, eds., The Pineapple: Botany, Production and Uses (Wallingford: CABI Publishing, 2003), 2–3. (Call no. R 634.774 PIN)
36. J. Purvis, “Presentment to the Hon’ble Her Majesty’s Court of Judicature of Prince of Wales Island, Singapore and Malacca,” 2; “Local,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 12 April 1850, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “On the Heritage Trail,” Today, 28 March 2002, 33. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “The Colonial and Indian Exhibition,” Singapore Free Press, 7 August 1886, 88; “Alleged Forged Trademark,” Singapore Free Press, 15 July 1898, 2; “Death of Mr J. Bastiani,” Straits Times, 5 January 1925, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
39. “Sailor Started Our Ginned Pines Trade,” Singapore Standard, 24 August 1950, 8; “The Malayan Pineapple in World Markets,” Straits Times, 25 August 1950, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
40. “The Colonial Fruit Trade,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 28 March 1887, 6; “Fresh Malaysian Pines a Sell-Out in Britain,” Singapore Herald, 23 March 1971, 5 (From NewspaperSG); Allen, Malayan Fruits, 210; Othman Yaacob, ed., Fruit Production in Malaysia (Serdang: Faculty of Agriculture, Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, 1980), 6. (Call no. RSEA 634.09595 FRU)
41. Tan Ban Huat, “Man Behind Old Nee Soon village,” Straits Times, 24 November 1987, 6; “Pioneers of Singapore,” Straits Times, 20 April 1986, 8; “From Rags to ‘Rubber King’,” Straits Times, 3 June 1967, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “Potentialities of Pineapple Industry: Dr Tempany’s Confidence in the Future,” Straits Times, 7 September 1933, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
43. J. De La Cruz Medina and H.S. García, “Pineapple: Post-Harvest Operations,” 13 November 2005, 15.
44. “Combined Production of Pineapples,” Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, accessed 12 July 2007.
45. Wendy Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore (Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, 2000), 16. (Call no. RSING 634.6 HUT); Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 10.

Further resources
Rolf Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide (NY: Comstock Publishing Associates, 2016), 15. (Call no. RSING 634.6 BLA)

Doreen G. Fernandez, Fruits of the Philippines (Philippines: Bookmark, 1997),  98–101. (Call no. RSEA 634.09599 FER)

Othman Yaacob and Suranant Subhadrabandhu, The Production of Economic Fruits in South-East Asia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 197–04. (Call no. RSING 634.0959 OTH)

R.E. Holttum and Ivan Enoch, Gardening in the Tropics: A Definitive Guide for Gardeners (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2010), 62, 222, 223, 349. (Call no. RSING 635.9523 HOL)

Timothy Pwee, The French Can: Pineapples, Sardines and the Gallic Connection,”  BiblioAsia 11, no. 2 (July–September 2015), 34–41.

List of Images
Bukit Panjang Government High School, Bukit Panjang Government School: Cub - Scouts Harvesting Pineapples at Boswell Estate, 1952, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media image no. 1998000563 – 0042)

National Archives of Singapore, Pineapples Ready for the Market, Singapore, 1900–1905, photograph, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980005754 – 0010)

The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

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