Status Symbols

In the 17th and 18th centuries, which fruit was considered a status symbol in England?

And the answer: pineapples.  

Photo credit: AQUARIUS STUDIO/SHUTTERSTOCK.

Native to South America, pineapples were expensive to ship to Europe, so only the wealthy could afford them. As the BBC explains, "A single fruit was worth thousands of pounds, and often the same pineapple would be paraded from event to event, until it eventually went rotten."

Converting exactly how much a whole pineapple cost back in the 17th and 18th centuries is extremely difficult to determine with accuracy, but the ballpark estimates tend to ring in at around (wait for it) $5,000 - $10,000 per pineapple. While the quality of the fruit and the season greatly impacted these numbers, it's safe to say that owning a pineapple had many cultural, societal implications (we wonder what Apple is taking a queue from...).

Just how did a piece of fruit come to be so valuable? After the pineapple was first encountered by European explorers in Guadeloupe during Christopher Columbus' second trip to the Caribbean in 1483, efforts were quickly set in motion to find a way of reliably producing the fruit back in Europe. The fruit itself, indigenous to South America, had been cultivated for centuries before its "discovery," yet it soon became clear that the only way to obtain it would be through direct importation. It wasn't until the Dutch were able to cultivate the pineapple in the late 1600s that it ever left the tropical region.

European tastes were quickly enamored with the fruit due to its natural sweetness. However, pineapples would often rot in transit due to the sheer length of the journey from the tropics. Thus, it was only through the fastest ships and the most ideal weather conditions that a pineapple could be enjoyed in Europe. Predictably, those able to fund such an endeavor were primarily royalty, or the ridiculously wealthy.

Learn more about this curious status symbol below.


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