This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in March 2015.
The pineapple has long been an irresistible attraction for people. The tropical fruit was a status symbol of the 17th century elite, and even a must-have accessory for Dutch festival-goers last summer. To learn more about pineapple obsession, I spoke with Prins Ananas, a.k.a. Lex Boon, about his long-running pineapple research project that has culminated with him becoming a pineapple trader himself.
"This happens all the time," says Boon, starting a new thought in the middle of a sentence. "My head is so full of facts and stories about the pineapple that I jump from story to story." Just seconds ago, he was telling me about visiting a pineapple trader in the Dutch town of Veenendaal who made him want start importing pineapples himself. But Boon doesn't want the dominant MD2 cultivar you find everywhere nowadays—he wants to find a rare variety like the Smooth Cayenne, which he says is only procured for wealthy Russians.
Let's rewind. In addition to being a pineapple obsessive, Boon is a journalist at Dutch newspaper NRC Next, where he writes about everything from art to crime. Two and a half years ago, he looked out the window of his house on the Albert Cuyp market in Amsterdam and began to dream about his own pineapple stall. He would call his company Prins Ananas (Prince Pineapple) and sell a particular kind of pineapple—an heirloom varietal. So Boon delved into the history of the pineapple and began discovering a plethora of bizarre factoids about it. He learned about the inventor of the most-eaten pineapple in Colorado and an 18th-century pineapple castle in Scotland, as well as the Greek guy who decided that pineapple could taste good on a pizza.
"I actually combine all my vacations with pineapple traveling," says Boon. "I could just call up the people I want to speak to, but I'd rather just go [visit them]."
Last September, the NRC Next started publishing Boon's stories about his hobby project. "I initially thought that newspapers should publish more important stories," he says, almost ashamed. "This pineapple project started purely as a thing I did in my own time. But it's nice when things come together."
The articles turned out to be quite newsworthy. Name an important event and Boon has a story with pineapple that comes with it: the fall of the Berlin Wall, for example. "In East Germany, there was a man who always bought canned pineapple in DDR stores. When the wall fell, he immediately went in search of fresh pineapple, and he was quite surprised to discover that there was no hole in the center [of the pineapple] like the canned version."
Another example: Charlie Hebdo. "NRC wanted to skip my column one week when the Saturday edition was completely dominated by the attack on Charlie Hebdo. They said, 'We can only publish it if you can connect it to the events in Paris. At first I thought that I would never succeed, but suddenly I thought about a riot over the freedom of speech at an English university two years ago that actually involved a pineapple. An atheist association had displayed a pineapple, along with a sign that said 'Muhammad the pineapple.'" Naturally, the Islamic Society at the university was very angry—but the whole debacle gave Boon fodder for a timely column, which he titled "The Hate Pineapple."
Boon's obsession with pineapples even provides opportunities to cover stories that other media outlets have missed. "I recently stumbled on [a story about] a forgotten conflict in Bangladesh. Newspapers haven't written about it since 1997. The riots in the area burned down a complete village, including all pineapple plants—so I ended up with writing about the conflict again."
Two weeks ago, the newspaper published its last pineapple story. Now that the theoretical part of Boon's project is done, it's time for the next step: becoming a pineapple importer himself. His plan is to import a rare pineapple variety—the Sugar Loaf or the Smooth Cayenne from Ghana—and bring it to market. It's rare to find countries that cultivate any other pineapple type than the MD2. "The older varieties are less sweet, less like chewing gum," Boon says. "The MD2 is really selected for its sweetness."
Boon is still figuring out how to make this new venture profitable, however. "I calculated that if I can price the pineapples at 5 euros each, my profit will be 1,400 euros," he says. "With that money can I go to Ghana to do further research there again."
The state of the pineapple industry is a huge concern for Boon. "It is such a big industry," he says. "[Sustainable food NGO Fairfood] published a report about the industry in the Philippines, but it's hard to really pinpoint and blame specific people or organisations. It is a closed world. That is also why I want to import [pineapples], because it'll hopefully give me a closer look into it."
To complete his project, Boon still needs to visit many of the countries that are on his pineapple bucket list. "I always sound a bit like a nerd when I say this, but there are still so many stories about the pineapple. I want to go Australia, to Brazil—to the area between Paraguay and Brazil where the first pineapple originated. I still can't find anything about it, but I would really like to see wild pineapples in the jungle, if they're still there."
Boon also wants to travel with a container ship from Costa Rica to Rotterdam to witness the journey that pineapples take. "And to the small island of Wallis and Futuna, where apparently the smallest pineapple is produced," he says. "And in India there's supposed to be a village with Dutch tombstones, and one tomb that reads: 'This man died from eating too many pineapples.' I sent a photographer there, but he couldn't find anything. I need to go there myself."
And thus the pineapple is Boon's guide to the rest of the world.