Most people agree that eating fruits and vegetables is an important part of establishing a healthy, balanced diet, but determining where a specific food falls within the categories “fruit” and “vegetable” can be a bit more difficult to agree upon. The debate on whether a tomato is a fruit or vegetable, for example, became so contentious that the supreme court got involved. Part of this confusion is due to the different ways we classify foods – scientifically, culinarily, and culturally.
In this article, we’ll explore the many factors that contribute to our understanding of fruit classification, establishing once and for all where pineapple falls in this spectrum. Is it a berry? Technically, the pineapple is considered a multiple fruit – though they are related. Read on to learn more!
Classifications of Fruit
All fruit can be broadly classified into two main categories – fleshy fruits and dry fruits. Fleshy fruits are produced when the pericarp and accessory parts of a fruit develop into succulent tissue. In a dry fruit, the pericarp dries out entirely as it matures, resulting in things like legumes, cereal grains, and nuts.
Fleshy fruits are further subcategorized into these three groups:
- Berries: in this group, which includes fruits like tomatoes, blueberries, and cherries, the pericarp and accessory parts of the fruit all develop into succulent tissue
- Aggregate fruits: these fruit, like blackberries and strawberries, are formed from one flower with many pistils, each of which develop into fruitlets
- Multiple fruits (also known as collective fruits): this type of fruit, which includes pineapples and mulberries, develops from the mature ovaries of an entire inflorescence – a cluster of flowers on a branch. Each flower produces a berry, and these individual fruits merge into a single mass as they mature. This mass is called an infructescence, or a fruiting head.(1)(2)
While the pineapple isn’t classified as a berry, it is technically a cluster of berries that have merged into one cohesive structure!
What Fruits Are In the Pineapple Family?
The pineapple is part of the Bromeliaceae family, which is also known as the Bromeliad or Pineapple family. The Bromeliaceae family is part of Poales order, which is the grass order of flowering plants (3), and is comprised of more than 3,000 species across 56 genera. Most flowering plants in this order produce fleshy fruit, though some also produce dry fruit.
Of all the species in the Bromeliaceae family, pineapple is the only edible fruit in the bunch, making it something of a black sheep in its family. (4)
While not a fruit, Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is another important economic product of the pineapple family, and related plants with fibrous leaves like Aechmea magdalenae and Neoglaziovia variegata are used to make rope and other important fibers in some regions.
Last but not least, air plants! From the epiphytic Tillandsia species, these novelty plants which are also in the Bromeliaceae family are incredibly popular among contemporary plant lovers. (5)
Is Pineapple In the Melon Family?
No, pineapple is not in the melon family. While pineapple is part of the Bromeliaceae family, foods like melons, gourds, squash, and cucumbers are part of the Cucurbitaceae family. Botanically, melons are classified as a berry (known as a pepo berry), and they typically have sweet, tender fruit. Watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew are all types of melon.
Pineapple and melons favor different growing conditions. While the pineapple is typically grown in tropical regions, melons and members of their family are capable of growing in more diverse warm climates. The melon is native to central Asia, but has been cultivated to thrive in other regions worldwide. (6)
Though their differences are plentiful, there are a few reasons why pineapple and melon are often thought of as members of the same family. One reason is that pineapple and different types of melon are commonly grouped together in culinary contexts. These fruits frequently share space in fruit platters, a number of tropical, refreshing beverages, and even mingle in summertime salads.
Another reason for confusion? The Ananas melon. Ananas, the French word for pineapple, is a rare heirloom melon, originally cultivated in the Middle East during the 1800s. “Ananas are oval shaped with firm, juicy, white flesh and a pale green to orange netted rind” and their name is “a nod to hints of ripe pineapple flavor in its aromatic flesh.”(7) While the heirloom melon is not botanically related to the pineapple, its name and aromatic profile can lead to confusion.
Is Pineapple a Fruit?
Fruit is botanically defined as “the fleshy or dry ripened ovary of a flowering plant, enclosing the seed or seeds.” (8) That means that fruit is any seed-bearing structure that develops from a flowering plant, while vegetables are other parts of a plant – the leaves, roots, or stems. In culinary contexts, however, a fruit is generally believed to be sweet – meaning that botanical fruits, like eggplants, bell peppers, and tomatoes, are considered vegetables. (9)
As previously stated, there is often debate between popular, culinary, and scientific opinions on what constitutes a fruit or vegetable. These debates are long-standing and polarizing, and usually handled on a case by case basis. Yet in all groups, it seems we all agree on one thing: the pineapple is definitely a fruit.
Do Pineapples Have Seeds?
Yes, some pineapples do have seeds – though you won’t be able to find them from the outside of the fruit, and they generally aren’t found in store bought pineapples.
This is a result of commercial cultivars, like many watermelons, grapefruits, grapes, and oranges – they have been bred to not express undesirable traits, like pesky seeds you have to dig out before eating. These varietals of pineapple are grown not from seeds, but rather from leaves from a mother plant. (10)
To check if your varietal of pineapple does contain seeds, cut into the ripe fruit about three-eighths of an inch from the outer rind. Break apart fruit to see if there are any seeds!
Do Pineapples Grow On Trees?
No, pineapples do not grow on trees! The pineapple plant, also called ananas comosus, is actually a shrub. Tough, waxy, blade-like leaves grow out from a short, central stem in a spiral formation, with one flower stalk that eventually grows to be one pineapple fruit. (11) The plant may take several years to flower and produce fruit, and are between 3 and 6 feet tall when fully mature.
Where Do Pineapples Grow In the World?
Today pineapple is grown in almost all tropical climates around the world, though it is native to tropical and subtropical America – most likely the region where Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil meet.
It’s global spread is traced from there north to Mexico and the West Indies, where Christopher Columbus learned about them in 1493. He brought the fruit home to Europe, and from there it eventually made its way to Hawai’i, perhaps the place most strongly associated with the fruit. (12)
The Portuguese also played a key role in the pineapples worldwide dissemination, introducing it to Saint Helena, Africa, and India in the 1500’s. “Before the end of the 16th century, cultivation of the plant had spread over most of the tropical areas of the world, including some of the islands of the South Pacific.” (13)
Hawai’i was the world’s leading commercial grower and exporter of the fruit from the early 1960s to the early 1980’s, when growing pineapple became significantly cheaper in other countries and they were forced to close their last cannery. Today pineapple is primarily supplied from countries including Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. (14)