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Why is a Hawaiian pizza called Hawaiian?

Hawaiian pizza, with its seemingly unusual combination of ham, pineapple, and cheese, has been the subject of heated debate and controversy since it was first invented in the 1960s. But how did this unique pizza come about and earn its tropical island-inspired name? Let’s explore the origins and history behind the Hawaiian pizza.

The Invention of Hawaiian Pizza

The creation of Hawaiian pizza is commonly attributed to Sam Panopoulos, a Greek immigrant who ran several successful pizza restaurants in Ontario, Canada in the 1960s. According to Panopoulos, he first came up with the idea after experimenting with different toppings to attract customers. Canned pineapple had become readily available and affordable in Canada by this time, so Panopoulos decided to try it out on pizza along with ham, inspired by the sweet and savory flavor combination in Chinese cuisine.

In 1962, Sam Panopoulos debuted his new pineapple and ham pizza at the Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario. It quickly became a hit with customers and was added to the restaurant’s menu permanently. Panopoulos soon began serving it at his other restaurants as well, and gave this new specialty pizza the name “Hawaiian” to evoke the spirit of Polynesia and appeal to the North American fascination with Hawaiian culture at the time.

The Rise in Popularity of Hawaiian Pizza

While invented in Canada, Hawaiian pizza saw a surge in popularity in the decade after its creation due to several factors:

  • The rise of tiki culture and Hawaiian themes in North American pop culture in the 1950s-60s
  • Increased tourism to Hawaii as jet travel became more affordable
  • The spread of pizza chains like Pizza Hut that adopted it as a menu item
  • Its unique, sweet and savory flavor profile that appealed to many people’s tastes

By the 1970s, Hawaiian had become one of the most popular and recognizable pizza varieties across North America, as well as in Australia where Pizza Hut introduced it. Various polls frequently ranked it among the top 5 favorite pizza toppings during this time. Its popularity spread to other parts of the world as well in the following decades.

The Hawaiian Pizza Controversy

Though many enjoyed the unconventional tropical twist Hawaiian pizza offered, it was also divisive from the very beginning. The combination of pineapple and ham on a pizza was seen by some purists as an affront to traditional pizza toppings.

Some of the common criticisms against Hawaiian pizza include:

  • Pineapple is too sweet and does not belong on a savory dish like pizza
  • The flavors and textures clash instead of complementing each other
  • It goes against customary pizza toppings like mushrooms, peppers, sausage, etc.
  • The concept was created just as a marketing gimmick

On the other side, defenders of Hawaiian pizza argue that:

  • The sweet and salty combination works well together
  • The pineapple adds needed moisture and prevents the pizza from being too greasy
  • An open mind to creativity is needed when it comes to food
  • Its popularity proves many people genuinely enjoy the taste

The debate rages on between Hawaiian pizza lovers and haters to this day.

Hawaiian Pizza Today

Despite the controversy surrounding it, Hawaiian pizza has secured its place as one of the most popular pizza varieties over the past 60 years. Some key facts about Hawaiian pizza today:

  • It is offered by nearly every major pizza chain
  • Usually ranks in the top 10 favorite pizza toppings polls
  • Has variations that substitute or add bacon, shrimp, jalapeños, etc.
  • Has inspired creative tropical-themed pizzas like “Jamaican” with jerk chicken
  • Remains iconic and nostalgic, with Hawaiian pizza-flavored Pringles created in 2019

While teetering between praised and reviled, Hawaiian pizza has had an enduring legacy from its humble beginnings in 1960s Canada. The tropical pizza inspires fierce debate to this day, but also reflects changing tastes and creativity in the pizza world.


In summary, Hawaiian pizza gets its name from the tropical island theme its unusual pineapple and ham toppings evoke. It was invented in the 1960s by a Greek-Canadian restaurant owner capitalizing on the North American fascination with Hawaiian culture at the time. Though divisive from the start, it soared in popularity through pizza chain adoption and an appeal to many people’s preferences for sweet and salty flavors. Hawaiian pizza remains a top pizza variety globally despite ongoing debate about the legitimacy of its unorthodox ingredients. Its invention symbolized a creative shift in pizza-making that opened the door for more experimental pizzas in the future.