The Debunker: Is Hawaiian Pizza Really Hawaiian?

by Ken Jennings

Since it's July, we're celebrating North America's most important patriotic holiday. Put that watermelon on ice and stock up on fireworks, because Canada Day is here! July 1 celebrates the Constitution Act of 1867 that unified Canada into a single dominion—but have Americans really studied up on our neighbor to the north, or do we take its many accomplishments for granted? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is not Canadian, but he does live just two hours from the border, and is very pale and polite. All month, he's going to be correcting our counterfactual Canadian conjectures, eh?

Is Hawaiian Pizza Really Hawaiian?

The Debunker

In February, the president of Iceland caused a furor when he told students at a high school Q&A that he was "fundamentally opposed" to pineapple on pizza, and would like to ban the topping. “I do not have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza,” the president later reassured a horrified world via Facebook. “I am glad I do not hold such power.”

In 2010, The Village Voice tried to answer a reader question as to whether or not Hawaiian pizza is actually popular in Hawaii. They contacted a restaurant reviewer at a Honolulu newspaper, who noted that Hawaiians are actually traditionalists when it comes to pizza toppings. The ham-and-pineapple variety, in other words, isn't particularly beloved there. But Voice reporter Sarah Digregorio tracked down the creation of the Hawaiian pizza not to the islands, but to the small Ontario city of Chatham, where a Greek restaurateur named Sam Panopoulos first created it in 1962. "Hawaiian" pizza is actually Canadian!

(Canadian bacon, a common staple in Hawaiian pizza, is not particularly Canadian, by the way. It's eaten all over the world, and outside of the U.S.—including in Canada—it's usually just called "back bacon.")

When the president of Iceland was attacking pineapple pizza in 2017, the BBC called up Panopoulos to get a comment. He didn't mind the Icelandic controversy, he said, but did give the full (and underwhelming) story of how he dreamed up his most famous invention. "We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste,” he said. “We were young in the business and we were doing a lot of experiments." The pie was an immediate hit with customers at his Satellite Restaurant, and he dubbed it "Hawaiian pizza" because the can he took the historic first pineapple slices from had a Hawaiian motif. Panopoulos passed away last month, but—unlike some inventors—at least he was recognized for his great achievement in his own lifetime.

Quick Quiz: From 1778 until the mid-19th century, Hawaii had a different name, which it shared not with pizza but with what other food?

Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.