Pizza is one of the most popular dishes available. 350 slices are eaten every second in the United States. 40% of Americans have pizza at least one time a week. Here is a short note on the interesting history of pizza,
Pizza and its toppings are a popular debate topic among many people. The war of “does pineapple go on pizza?” has been raging for decades. Different styles of pizzas vary among various regions in the United States.
But pizza didn’t originate in the US. It famously began in Italy, many years ago. The history of pizza is fascinating, with flatbreads dating back over 12,000 years ago.
If you love pizza and want to learn some fun facts you can throw out at your local pizza joint, don’t worry. We’ve gathered everything you need to know about the origins of the dish and the history of pizza in America.
The Origins of Pizza
The dish currently known as pizza had humble beginnings many centuries ago. It began as pieces of flatbread topped with savory toppings for people who couldn’t afford plates or didn’t have time to sit down for a meal.
Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all ate this type of dish. They’d place the dough in mud ovens or on a hot stone, spreading their toppings across the surface. In ancient Persia, soldiers used their shields as their cooking surfaces.
Some ancient civilizations used the following topping combinations:
- In Nice, an area in France that borders Italy topped their flatbread with anchovies, garlic, caramelized onions, and olives
- Spain, or Catalonia, added olives, tuna, red bell peppers, sardines, and onions
- Turkish civilians topped their flatbread with a tomato and lamb mixture
Dating all the way back to the first century B.C., a Roman poet spoke about circles of bread, called pinsa. Romans cooked their pinsa on hot ashes and it comes the closest to resembling modern-day pizza.
The Story Behind Naples and Pizza
The pizza that’s served in American restaurants mimics the Italian pizza created in Naples. In the 18th century, the poor citizens of Naples were the first to start regularly eating pizza.
At that time, during the 16th century, the tomatoes that came from Europe and Peru were believed to be poisonous. Various tradesmen and mariners began topping their flatbread with imported tomatoes. Visitors and locals began enjoying “pizza marinara,” which was a flatbread with tomatoes on top and no cheese.
Visitors to Naples would go to poorer neighborhoods so they could try this local specialty. It got its name because “la marinara” made it, which translates to “a seaman’s wife.”
These pizzas were perfect for seamen and tradesmen to grab in the few moments they had to spare for lunch. The dishes were inexpensive and easily eaten with their hands on the go.
The Birth of the Margherita Pizza
In the 18th century, a baker named Raffaele Esposito who worked at a Naples pizzeria created the Margherita pizza. Queen Margherita and King Umberto I of Savoy visited Naples in 1889. The queen wanted to try the famous dish of the city.
Esposito made them a pizza in honor of Queen Margherita. The colors of the pizza replicated those of the Italian flag:
- White: mozzarella
- Red: tomatoes
- Green: basil leaves
While there are many variations of this pizza, there are certain standards to meet when making an authentic version of the pizza pie.
In 1984, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) was created in Naples. The goal of this organization is to provide certification to pizzerias that use proper traditions when creating Neapolitan pizza. Pizzerias have to meet several requirements to get certified.
There is an American branch of the VPN and there are only around a few hundred restaurants around the world that have certification.
One of the requirements is that the dough has to be made with highly refined Italian wheat flour, fresh brewer’s yeast, salt, and water. It also has to be kneaded by a low-speed mixer or by hand. No rolling pins allowed.
The tomatoes used have to be pureed, raw San Marzano Italian tomatoes. The mozzarella can be for di latte or mozzarella di Bufala. It’s topped with extra-virgin olive oil and fresh basil.
Finally, the pizza is cooked for 60-90 seconds in a stone oven that’s heated by a wood fire. The oven has to be at least 800°F.
The History of Pizza in America
Pizza came to the United States during the late 19th century. During that time, there was a big influx of eastern and southern European immigrants. Most of the immigrants from Italy were coming from the southern portion, home of Naples and the famed dish.
Neapolitan foods, such as pizza, made their way to America before they got to other regions of Italy. During the early 1900s, it was more likely you’d find a pizza in NYC than in Milan or Rome.
In the beginning, pizza remained a comforting dish that was made at home in Italian-American neighborhoods. In the 1920s and 30s, pizzerias started opening up in those neighborhoods in New York, New Haven, and northern New Jersey. At that time, those restaurants were mostly patronized by southern Italians.
During World War II, Naples was a central location for American and British intelligence agents. They cultivated a taste for the dish and looked for it at restaurants when they came back home. Veterans from the war played a big role in making pizza a popular food outside of the native community.
Fast food chains started gaining in popularity in the 1950s and 60s and pizzerias were no exception. Domino’s and Pizza Hut were founded at that time. They took the dish to new heights, establishing a presence across the country.
Nowadays, it’s easy to find a local pizza joint or a chain restaurant to satisfy your pizza cravings. There are many arguments over what restaurant serves the best pizza.
Order From Your Favorite Pizza Restaurant
If reading about the history of pizza hasn’t gotten you craving the famous dish, we don’t know what will. Whatever you choose to top your pie with, you’re guaranteed to have a comforting meal. Pizza has evolved over the centuries and will continue to change as it takes over the globe.
To learn more about your favorite foods, check out one of our other articles.