Canadian inventor of Hawaiian pizza, Sam Panopoulos, dies

Sam Panopoulos, the inventor of Hawaiian pizza, died on June 8, 2017.
Sam Panopoulos, the inventor of Hawaiian pizza, died on June 8, 2017.PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

OTTAWA (AFP) - The Greek immigrant who created one of the world's most popular and controversial pizzas - Hawaiian pizza - in his restaurant in Canada more than 50 years ago, has died.

Sam Panopoulos - who earned a place in history by putting canned pineapple and ham on a pizza at his Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario in 1962 - was 83 and had just celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife Christina.

He died suddenly in the hospital on Thursday, according to his obituary.

Sam Panopoulos emigrated from Greece to Canada in 1954 at the age of 20 and ran several restaurants in Ontario with his two brothers.

Panopoulos had operated a string of successful restaurants with his brothers Elias and Nikitas when he came up with his famous invention, The Guardian said.

His most famous creation would result from an experiment: one day Panopoulos decided to put tinned pineapple on a pizza to find out how it would taste.

"We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste," he told the BBC earlier this year. "We were young in the business and we were doing a lot of experiments."

He and his brothers liked the contrast between the sweetness of the pineapple and the savoury flavour of the ham.

"We tried it first, (then) passed it to some customers. And a couple of months later, they're going crazy about it, so we put it on the menu."

It was called the Hawaiian after the brand of tinned pineapple used. At the time pizza toppings were usually limited to mushrooms, bacon and pepperoni, Panopoulos said.

Last February, the dish became the target of ridicule by Iceland's president, Guoni Johannesson.

Saying he was fundamentally opposed to pineapple on pizza, Johannesson declared that it should be banned.

After a public uproar, he clarified that he gladly does not have "the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapple on their pizza."

Defending his creation, Panopoulos told the public broadcaster CBC: "Nobody liked it at first," he said. "But after that, they went crazy about it, because (in) those days nobody was mixing sweet and sour and all that. It was plain, plain food."

Others soon began experimenting, Panopoulos said, going beyond the traditional pepperoni, bacon and mushroom toppings to include salmon, green peppers, onions or "whatever you wanted.