Pizza is a favorite food for the majority of people across the globe. It can be cooked and served anywhere; at home, in restaurants, on the streets, and during events. Also, it may be your go-to food after a night out with friends. Plus, many families find it the perfect Sunday meal whether they stay indoors or eat out.
Around 3 billion pizzas are sold yearly in the United States alone. That translates to an average of 46 slices per person. But as you sit to enjoy your favorite pizza, have you ever thought about the history of pizza?
Century after century, people have been eating pizza in one form or another. Back in antiquity, those who could not afford a plate of food or were on the go were served tasty flatbread pieces topped with various ingredients.
A History of Naples
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Pizza is an Italian word for pie, but no one really knows the origin of the word pizza. Although it is believed that pizza originated in Italy, the history of pizza can be traced back to the Middle East. The Greeks, Egyptians, Armenians, Israelis, and Romans consumed baked flatbreads with toppings in ancient times.
They cooked the flatbread in mud ovens and topped it with olive oil and spices. The meal was quick to prepare and was convenient for working men and their families. Most people see Naples, Italy, as the birthplace of pizza.
Naples was founded as a Greek settlement and was a thriving waterfront city in the 1700s. It had a lot of working poor people, also known as Lazzaroni. Their population was very dense, especially towards the bay. They made much of their living outdoors or in homes consisting of one little room.
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The Neapolitans needed inexpensive food that could be gobbled up quickly. This need was perfectly met by pizza. Pizza was a baked flatbread with various toppings eaten at any time and sold in the streets by vendors or informal restaurants.
At this time, the well-off Italians called this street food “disgusting,” and it is thought that the reason was that poor people consumed it.
When Was Pizza Invented?
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Pizza was invented between the late 17th Century and early 18th Century when Naples grew very fast and became one of the largest cities in Europe. The overseas trade they carried and the migration of peasants from the countryside saw the population rise from about 200,000 people to nearly 400,000 people.
This growth led to great poverty among the city residents as the urban economy was stretched beyond its limit. The poorest of all, known as Lazzaroni, were potters, messengers, or casual laborers. They always rushed out in search of work and needed cheap and easy-to-make food.
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Although no one can pinpoint the exact date that pizza was invented, historians have been able to narrow down the period. Europe did not have tomatoes until the 1500s. They were initially thought to be poisonous, so they were not readily embraced when they came from the West.
Therefore, pizza could not have been invented by then. A book written in 1799 describes pizza as a dough with tomato sauce and cheese, so by that time, it already existed. Moreover, a census taken in 1700 in Italy listed a few people as “pizolas” (pizza makers) in Naples, meaning it was a well-known dish that gave rise to a profession.
The Need for Inexpensive Food
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Pizza was their best option. It was sold by street vendors carrying it in huge boxes under their arms. The pizza would be cut into pieces according to the customer’s budget or appetite.
A large pizza would cater to the entire family, while two slices were enough for breakfast. The simplest pizzas were topped with only garlic and salt. Others included fresh tomatoes, cheese made from horse’s milk, or even basil.
This dish was looked down upon by the well-off in society, but their low price and unpopularity made them attractive. The 19th Century book authors ignored this dish and wrote nothing about it. This was even though lazzaroni’s poverty status had improved, and they had opened their first pizza restaurants.
Pizza remained little known in Italy and was slow to move out of Naples’s borders.
As several Napoleons moved out of Nepal searching for work in the 1930s, they took their cuisine with them. The war also accelerated the spread of pizza. The soldiers who invaded Italy loved the pizza and would ask for it everywhere they went.
Tourism during the postwar period, boosted by the declining cost of travel, stamped pizza’s position as an Italian dish. Tourists increasingly demanded this food from restaurants in Italian restaurants.
Because not every restaurant had a pizza oven, the quality of the pizza varied. Nevertheless, pizza spread quickly throughout Italy, and new ingredients were introduced. These ingredients were in response to the local tastes and the highest price tag that the customers were willing to pay.
The Evolution of Pizza
The quick economic and technological changes from the 1950s in the US further transformed pizza even more. The first change was the domestication of pizza. This was attributed to the growth of disposable income, which led to the availability of fridges and freezers.
The demand for convenience foods grew, leading to the development of frozen pizza. Since the frozen pizza was designed to be taken home and cooked at will, there was a need to change the recipe.
Instead of topping the pizza with lots of tomatoes, they now used tomato paste to smother the base of the pizza. This was used to prevent the dough from drying when cooking it in the oven. They also developed new cheese that could withstand freezing.
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The second significant change was the commercialization of pizza. As cars and motorcycles grew in availability, delivering freshly cooked food to customers became possible. Pizza was among the first foods to be delivered in this manner.
The Dominos was formed in 1960 by Tom and James Monaghan in Michigan. At first, they named it “Dominik’s” but renamed it after their reputation of speedy delivery grew. They then took it nationwide.
Pizza restaurateurs expanded abroad and are now found in every city worldwide.
a) The Invention of Pizza Margherita
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Although pizza has ancient roots, it was probably the royal approval by King Umberto I and Queen Margherita that triggered its path to global domination. In 1889, they visited Naples after Italian unification.
They became bored by their steady diet of French haute cuisine and asked for a different diet. The pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito was hastily summoned to prepare local delicacies for the queen.
He tried several of his pies. He topped one with garlic, another covered with anchovies, and another covered in tomato sauce and sprinkled with mozzarella cheese and basil. The queen loved the last one, which coincidentally had the colors of the Italian flag.
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Pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito named it Pizza Margherita, which is what it is today.
Queen Margherita’s approval may have created the Italy-wide pizza craze. Her approval signaled a shift from pizza being food for the poor to food the royal family could consume.
Pizza was also transformed from a local dish to a national dish. It was now considered a genuinely Italian food, just like pasta and polenta.
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b) The Invention of the Pepperoni Pizza
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The pepperoni pizza was not invented in Italy. Italian immigrants who migrated to New York City in early 1900 were the first to make it. The Ezzo family, who were making Canastota, New York sausages, are thought to have begun to sell it pre-sliced. They were creating sausages, including spicy ones that were bright red.
In the 1950s, a pizza place in New Haven put Pepperoni on a pie, and it became a pizza topping. The pepperoni pizza was not a national sensation until Dominos dipped their feet. In the 1980s, The Ezzo Company, which was making sausages, started making Pepperoni for Domino.
Since Domino’s pizza was rapidly growing at that time, it positioned Pepperoni as a favorite pizza topping. This growth was also boosted by the popular cartoon “Teenage Mutant Turtles.” Pepperoni has become one of the most popular pizza toppings nowadays.
c) The Origin of Hawaiian Pizza
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The Hawaiian pizza did not come to your local pizzeria from Hawaii, nor did it come from Italy. This classic dish originated from Canada and is usually topped with canned pineapple and ham and may also include peppers, bacon, or mushrooms.
Its invention is accredited to French Canadian Sam Panopoulos. He owned a restaurant in the province of Ontario, which he operated with his brothers. They initially served simple food like pancakes and burgers. His trip to Naples inspired him to try the pizza, and he included it in the menu.
Since pizza was a relatively new dish by then, it was only topped with mushrooms, bacon, or Pepperoni. Panopoulos decided to become adventurous with his dishes and introduced an Americanized version of Chinese food where he added pineapple to make sweet and sour chicken.
He did the same to the pizzas by adding Canned pineapple and ham. Although he didn’t know how the customers would take it, they were happy with the sweet and savory taste. He called this pineapple pizza Hawaiian in honor of the company that supplied him with the canned pineapple.
How Pizza Got to America
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Interestingly, pizza found its second home in America. As early as the 1900s, Italian immigrants reached the East Coast and Midwest. Places like Omaha, Nebraska, and Wisconsin started experiencing some pizza delicacies. But it is in New York city where pizza became famous.
The first pizzeria – Lombardi’s – was opened in New York City in 1905. Soon pizza became a signature food. It spread quickly across the country, and the rapid growth of urbanization fueled this.
Pizza making was quickly taken up by enterprising restaurants not of Italian origin. They adapted it to reflect the local tastes, needs, and identities.
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During world war 2, a restaurateur named Ike Sewell, in an attempt to attract new customers to his newly opened Chicago Pizzeria tried to offer a much healthier version of the dish. It came complete with a deeper, thicker crust and more abundant toppings that were richer than their counterparts. They included cheese at the bottom and chunky tomato sauce at the top.
It was during this same time that the Rock Mountain Pie was invented in Colorado. This one had a much broader crust and was eaten with honey as a dessert. With time, the Hawaiian version was developed and topped with ham and pineapple.
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The changes made in the pizza recipe we know today were to make pizza more standardized and susceptible to variation. Although the dough base topped with tomatoes and cheese remained, customers desired novelty, which led to more elaborate varieties.
We now have Pizza Hut in Poland selling a spicy version known as “Indian.” Domino’s Pizza in Japan sells “Elvis” pizza with almost everything on it.
Today’s pizzas are pretty different from the original pizza, and many Napoleons are uncomfortable with the new topping. However, pizza is still recognizable as its original form even after centuries of social, economic, and technological changes, reflected in every bite.
The history of pizza is an interesting one. If you have been wondering how your favorite came into existence, then you have the full details. The business of selling pizza is one of the most thriving worldwide. International brands like Domino and Pizza Hut have successful branches in over 60 different countries.
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