The history of pizza: a slice of italy's rich food tradition

December 7, 2022

Gluten Free – Gluten Free Available – Vegetarian – Spicy – Hormone & Antibiotic Free – From Scratch

Americans eat more than 100 acres of pizza every single day, adding up to around 3 billion pizzas per year. And while there’s seemingly more variation in toppings that come out all the time, the longstanding favorite is pepperoni.

Where did this seemingly perfect dish come from, though?

Surprisingly it has roots in Greek, Egyptian, and Roman culture. Keep reading to learn where the dish first appeared, and how it grew in popularity so quickly.

Italian Food: A Rich Background

Much like clam chowder in the early USA and ‘guiso’ in various parts of South America, pizza became the affordable staple of families and workers with fewer resources. Its format made it easy to make, given the accessibility of the ingredients, how easy it was to transport, and how fast it was to make.

Italy’s early cuisine adopted much of Greek cooking. Roman ships would bring in wine, fine spices, and wheat, among others. Some of the more popular dishes of the time included Tuscan beef, black truffles, provolone, mozzarella cheese, and various citrus fruits. Of course, you could also find different types of pasta and bread.

This combination of foreign ingredients and hearty local meals offered chefs plenty of opportunities to mix and match and create new recipes. 

The History of Pizza: Italy’s Star Meal

Many believe pizza first appeared in Naples. However, there are signs that the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans had a similar dish. The Persians were known to eat cheese-covered flatbreads with various toppings. The farthest back this was taking place is sixth century BCE.

The pizza we enjoy today, though, was brought into the world from the poorer parts of Naples, Italy. And, considering that tomatoes only made it to Europe in the 1500s, the sauce must’ve been quite different before this latest iteration.

Rumors have it that Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889 and is responsible for the famous combination of mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes; hence the name Margherita pizza. It was her preferred combination of ingredients, and it stuck from that moment.

Pizza’s Rise in Popularity

Interestingly enough, pizza’s popularity didn’t take off in Italy. And the now famous dish wasn’t even well known until after the 1940s. Pizza only skyrocketed in popularity after reaching New York, along with a few other cities in the USA, in the late 20th century.

For some time, pizza sales in the USA were from homemade and unlicensed sellers. The first pizzeria that received a license to sell pizza was G. Lombardi’s in 1905. As soon as they opened, their ovens could barely keep up with their high number of customers.

The pie soared again in popularity after World War II. It slowly shifted from being seen as an Italian or foreign delicacy, and became more of a local and recognizable treat. This was mostly due to how simple and fast the production was, along with how easy it was to take home.

Finally, once creatives in the western part of the USA started testing out new topping combinations, pizza was solidified as a strong dish in the country. You could find a wide variety of types of pizza. One example involves pineapple, which sparked a fun public debate as to whether or not this choice of ingredient respected the origins of the dish.

Popular Types of Pizza

The different types of pizza are simply a varied combination of ingredients, including the type of bread, cheese, and select toppings. From Neapolitan pizza, which is considered the first-ever pizza, to the modern deep dish varieties, there’s an almost endless list of pizzas you can try.

It’s worth noting, first, that there are two primary types of pizza crust and dough. These are thin and thick crusts. The difference is that thick-crust pizza has raised borders, keeping all the ingredients towards the center. Thin-crust pizzas don’t have a tall border and are slimmer in the center.

Neapolitan Pizza

Neapolitan pizza is simple and easy to whip up. It has three variations but primarily features mozzarella, basil leaves, oregano, olive oil, and tomatoes. By adding garlic or removing a few of the ingredients, you can also make the variations. These include the Marinara, Margherita, and Margherita extra.

Sicilian Pizza

Sicilian pizza is a thick crust cut with soft dough and a crunchy outer crust. It’s square, and can be served without cheese, but has tomato, a healthy amount of onion, herbs, and anchovies. In some cases, you can put the cheese under the sauce, which is meant to keep the dough from getting soggy. As the name suggests, this style was brought to the USA along with Sicilian immigrants.

Greek Pizza

Greek immigrants brought Greek pizza with them to the USA. The recipe calls for a chewy and thick crust cooked in oiled pans, deep frying the bottom of the pie. It’s not a deep-dish pizza, but it’s close. In terms of ingredients, it has cheddar, provolone, and mozzarella cheese, along with red onion and black olives.

New York-Style Pizza

New York-Style pizza is one of the reasons many tourists visit the Big Apple in the first place. It’s a larger iteration of the Neapolitan pizza but with a thick crust. Typically, the toppings include sausage, mushrooms, anchovies, and pepperoni. Many say it has a unique flavor, though, and it has to be heated in a coal or wood-burning oven.

Pizza: A Global Sensation

While the history of pizza shows that it had humble beginnings, it quickly turned into a global sensation after its introduction the USA. And, while the first officially recognized pizzas were created in Italy, it has roots in Greek, Egyptian, and Roman culture.

Many cultures now mix and match their local ingredients to create new types of pizza. And many are now renown for their unique approach. Spain for its fish pizza pies, the USA for barbecued chicken pizza, and Japan for stylized sushi pizza pies.

Check out our catering services if you’re interested in hosting an event with Italian food. We have a wide variety of pizzas, including the famous Margherita, picante, chicken bianco, and chicken BBQ! We also have gluten free options and all our food is made from scratch.