On the 10th of June, as many of you might have already been aware, Sam Panopoulos, a Canadian restaurateur passed away. It was a sad day, not just for his family and friends but also for all those who appreciate the ingenious pineapple-and-ham combination on oven-baked, tomato sauce covered circular flatbread, served all over the world. Yes, that controversial invention of his which polarised the first world, already plagued by many other devastating questions such as ‘ios or Android?’, and set it ablaze with what we commonly refer to as Hawaiian ‘pizza’.
There are plenty of half-wit semi-entertaining articles on this issue out there (obviously including this very piece but also this, this , this and this – to get you started). But as trivial and frivolous as this pseudo-controversy might seem, this debate is probably not confined to pineapple as a pizza topping (I’m sure there is a sociological angle one can approach this from too, but I’m not qualified to go there). There is a slightly more substantial culinary issue here if, for analytical purposes, we deconstruct the pineapple and ham to the fundamentals; mixing savoury and sweet tastes.
The five basic tastes (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savoury – ignore ‘umami’ – it’s contestable) we’re hardwired with, apparently provide our taste-buds with crucial information about the food we’re about to swallow e.g. sweetness signals high density of energy/calories, and saltiness, minerals and nutrients, while bitterness/sourness signals potential toxicity.
Whilst I understand that culinary masochists would condition themselves to like all things bitter and sour, most of our tongues favour salty and sweet over bitter and sour especially if each taste is to be experienced on its own. So, when sweet is combined with salty, that’s a double-whammy of what our body is programmed to prefer; at this point smug Hawaiian pizza lovers are probably thinking ‘exactly!’.
Well, not so fast.
The thing is we all know salt is pretty special, in that not only does it taste salty but it is a flavour enhancer in low doses (with ‘low doses’ being the key phrase in this sentence). In fact in high doses (relatively speaking) salt is a ‘bitterness/sourness taste-bud activator’.
Now to finally bring you to the Hawaiian pizza abhorrence, I surmise that (amongst other reasons), maybe it’s not so much the sweet-and-savoury combination per se that offends people’s taste-buds as the poor imbalance between the two tastes and/or the (wrong) amount of salt in the ham, relative to that of pineapple in the first place. Yes. That’s right. It’s the ham!
Have a sweet and savoury Friday.