Whether it comes straight out of your freezer and cooked in your oven, whether it comes straight to your door in one of those recognizable square takeout boxes, or from an authentic Italian restaurant, pizza in all its forms is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.
In fact, pizza is quite often the top choice on lists detailing a nation’s favorite food, in countries all over the world. If you have ever eaten a pizza, it is easy to see why they are so well-loved.
The combination of dough, cheese, and tomato is indescribable, especially when partnered with the toppings you most love.
It is comfort food like no other and has long been the chosen food of friends at sleepovers, for drunken college students, at family get-togethers, and for beer and football nights with your gang!
Whatever your dietary preference, whatever your culture, you can find a pizza to suit you.
Have you ever stopped to think about pizza, though?
We all joke that it was a gift from the gods, but have you ever thought about where it actually comes from? Who invented pizza? Was it ‘invented’ as such, or has it gradually transitioned into the pizza we love today? Italians are famed for their pizza, but did it come from there?
To put it plainly, what is the history of pizza?
Well, in this article we are hoping to give you the answer to that. We will be looking at the colorful (and delicious) history of pizza.
We will be given you a tour through the ages of pizza, looking at what it is, where it may have originated, giving some interesting pizza-related facts, and telling you about some of the modern-day pizza milestones.
We will also be telling you some interesting pizza-related records that have been set, letting you know about some weird and wonderful pizza toppings, and even referencing the age-old debate: does pineapple belong on pizza? Spoiler alert: it does! Does that sound like it takes your fancy?
So, if you are a pizza fan and you want to find out more about your favorite food beyond the fact that it is absolutely delicious. Then this is the article for you. Sit back, relax, and just try to make it to the end of the article without calling for a pizza!
What is pizza?
Before we go any further, we wanted to take a minute to establish what pizza is. After all, just because we are obsessed it doesn’t mean everyone else is. Heck, some people may have never even tasted it!
Pizza is a savory dish that is served around the world. It is a very popular meal and can be served in classy restaurants such as Italian pizzerias, on a plate and eaten with a knife and fork.
It can also be bought in supermarkets and cooked at home where it is commonly divided into hand-sized triangles to eat by picking it up. Takeout pizza is eaten in this way, too.
As well as being a meal, it can also be served as a snack, with single slices being sold at street food vendors, particularly in America.
Pizza varies depending on where in the world it is made or served. However, three main things remain the same - a doughy/ bread base, a sauce to put directly on the base, and the addition of toppings.
Typically, a pizza is made from a flat pizza dough base, topped with a tomato sauce, and then adorned with different toppings before being topped with plenty of cheese and then cooked. Toppings in America have changed radically through the years, and new pizza toppings are being created yearly.
Some popular toppings from pizza chains have included a hot dog topped pizza, pizza with pickles on, buffalo chicken pizza, and even a Christmas Dinner pizza in the United Kingdom (it is very similar to a Thanksgiving dinner with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey - they even had a gravy base!).
One of the most famous pizzas - the Margarita pizza - is so popular because of its simplicity. All it consists of is a pizza dough base, a tomato sauce, and it is topped with mozzarella.
We will be looking at the supposed origins of this famous pizza a little later in the article, so do keep reading if you are interested in how this came about.
Of course, around the world pizza comes in all shapes and sizes. The Greek pita is very similar to a pizza and can often be topped with cheese and meats in a similar fashion to pizza. Likewise, in the United States, deep-dish pizza is favored, such as the Chicago style.
Typically, the dough is made from bread flour, water olive oil, activated yeast, and salt. Some recipes may also call for some sugar to be used. The dough is usually kneaded and then stretched by hand.
Of course, there are other ways to make a dough and other methods for stretching it. Certainly, as we have already said, these methods vary depending on where in the world you are. Some doughs are much thicker and stodgier, whereas others are made to be completely crisp.
Perhaps the most famous pizza of all, though, is Italian pizza - in particular, Neapolitan pizza from the town of Napoli. This pizza is thought to be the reason we have pizza today.
Keep on reading to the next section to find out more about the world-renowned Italian style pizza.
Where Did Pizza Originate?
Pizza dates back to antiquity. By this, we mean that ancient civilizations seemed to eat a sort of topped flatbread that very closely resembled what we now know as pizza.
The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all seemed to have these dining practices, topping different flatbreads with oils, herbs, figs, cheese, and even meats.
It was the Romans that were thought to have been the closest in this though, eating a sort of topped focaccia bread that they called panis focacius. This seems to more closely resemble the pizza that we have come to know today. It seems that it is from these types of flatbreads that the pizzas in Naples evolved.
These Neapolitan pizzas were often served as street food on the streets of Naples. Some people date this back to around the 1600s. Certainly, in the 17th and 18th centuries, food like pizzas and flatbreads would have been the main diet for many Neapolitan people.
Generally, the people of Napoli were of low-class, either the lower working class or totally destitute. This meant that they needed cheap meals that still ensured they had adequate nutrition for energy.
Flatbreads were often topped with cheeses, oils, anchovies, and herbs, being sold by street vendors at all times of the day. This provided the poor Naploi people all of their meals. They would buy them from these informal street vendors and eat them as they walked (very much like you can see on the streets of New York today).
Whilst these early types of pizza were very common in Napoli, it took a little while for them to gain wider popularity. In the 19th century, there were certainly many pizzerias and street vendors of pizza in Napoli, but they remained more or less unknown to the rest of Italy and even the world. This is perhaps because of the fact that before the middle of the 1800s, Napoli was independent of Italy.
When Italy unified in 1861 that opened the door for more visitors to Naples, and in turn, their pizza became a talking point, attracting more and more people.
Certainly then, it was in the latter part of the 19th century that pizza rose to the occasion. Some reports state that the number of vendors of pizza actually doubled after the middle of the century because of how popular it had become. Visitors to Naples from other parts of Italy would purposely travel to the poorest parts of the area in order to try the specialty. It was certainly no longer a food just for poor people.
It was after the unification of Italy that the famous Margherita pizza came to be. This was the pizza that perhaps set the ball rolling for the pizzas we know and love today. Certainly, it is still one of the most popular now!
In 1889, Queen Margherita visited Naples and asked for a selection of pizzas from the famous Raffaele Esposito - known by many as the father of modern Pizza. Raffaele Esposito is said to have made three different pizza flavors, especially for the Queen, commissioning them purely for her benefit. One of these pizzas was made with mozzarella, tomato, and basil.
This one was deemed to be her favorite and she was very happy with it. The story goes that Espositio decided to make this pizza a regular one, choosing to name it after her. So the Margherita pizza was born!
Even to this day, the shop that was once Esposito’s pizzeria still has a letter from Queen Margherita there. It is still a pizzeria today by the name of Pizzeria Brandi. You can visit it for a meal in Naples.
This story is actually disputed by many people, with some saying that this was not actually the case and there has been some doubt cast on it. However, the fact remains that the letter does indeed still exist in the Brandi pizzeria, and it can be seen if you wish to.
Even with all of this newfound popularity, the pizza of Naples still went largely unknown to most of the rest of the world. It remained Italy’s little secret for many years, but of course, with anything that delicious, it gradually started to trickle into other parts of the world over time.
Italian immigrants when they moved to other parts of Europe and to the state took their pizza recipes with them, opening up pizzerias wherever they landed. In New York, the Italian community was huge, and in 1905 the first pizzeria opened there. It was called Lombardi’s and soon became a popular eatery.
A huge surge in the popularity of pizza came when allied troops stationed in Italy in the 1940s would eat pizza. Of course, upon going back to their home countries they took with them the memory of pizza, seeking out ways to get that authentic pizzeria taste at home.
They became customers of all of the pizzerias across the world, introducing their family and friends to it, too. The New York pizzerias were popping up everywhere, and Chicago, Boston, and St. Louis was starting to follow suit. People were going crazy for pizza!
A veteran who had been stationed in Italy later invented a gas fired pizza oven in the United States. This allowed people to make homemade pizza for themselves, and it was even sold to shopkeepers and restaurateurs, making pizza something that everyone could enjoy.
The veteran in question was a man named Ira Neven, and he invented the pizza oven in 1945. He is thought to be the person who sparked the mass selling of pizzas in pubs, taverns, and other places in the US. it was no longer just something Italian immigrants made in their pizzerias, but it was becoming a commercialized commodity.
Pizza’s popularity soared, and in 1984 there was an association set up specifically in order to protect the status of Neapolitan pizza. After all, many people were starting to sell ‘Neapolitan pizza’ that was actually nothing like the traditional way of making it.
The association was called Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana which translates to True Neapolitan Pizza Association. This association made it so that there had to be very specific rules that must be followed when making a Neapolitan pizza, or else it could not be known as such.
These specific rules included that it must always be baked in a wood-fired oven, that it must only be hand kneaded, that it remains 35 centimeters in diameter or less, and that the center is no more than a third of a centimeter.
One thing is for sure, and that is that the origins of pizza are as interesting as pizza is delicious! Pizzas have come such a long way since their early origins, as we mentioned early on in the article, they are thought to be one of the favorite foods of many people across many different countries and cultures. In fact, in the states, it is thought that around 1 in 8 people eat pizza on any given day!
We will be looking at the modern age of pizza in the next section, looking at the popularity of pizza and what has made it the comfort meal of choice for everyone from young children to hungover college students, and even our grandparents!
Modern Day Pizza Milestones
The pizza of today has come such a long way since the street food vendors of the 1600s to 1800s. It comes in a box delivered straight to our door, or perhaps from a supermarket in the frozen food section.
Pizza fast food stores are some of the most popular takeout choices worldwide. Dominos, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, and sop many more line our streets and have remained firm favorites over the years.
The first pizza chain restaurants are thought to have been Shakey’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesars. All three of these originated in America. Pizza Hut was created in Kansas in 1958, Shakey’s in Sacramento in 1954, and Little Caesars in Michigan in 1959.
These pizza chains, of course, offered dine-in options. However, it was because of these chains that pizza delivery became a thing. Convenience was the keyword post-war, with many people finding themselves with more disposable income than ever.
Motorbikes were becoming a common feature, and lots of people had cars. This meant that pizzas were able to be delivered to the homes of anyone who wanted them. A family could call up the pizza chain, and within the hour they could get a freshly cooked, hot pizza delivered to their door.
This convenience of having food delivered to your door led to pizzas becoming very popular. However, it also meant that the way pizzas were being made had to change slightly. Long gone were the days of tirelessly kneading dough, letting it rise for hours, hand stretching it, and lovingly lacing sauce and cheese on it.
Things had to be done much more quickly, and of course, they had to be done to appease the masses. This meant that new toppings were being thought up constantly, to suit the tastes of different cultures.
Meat-loving America, for example, were demanding meaty pizzas full of ham, cured meats, chicken, and all the extra cheese possible. Bases were getting thicker, toppings more adventurous.
The 1960s saw the creation of the Hawaiian pizza, which was a pizza topped with ham and pineapple. Oddly enough, it was made in Canada, by a non-Hawaiian person. Nevertheless, Hawaiian pizza became extremely popular and has proved a point of debate ever since the first one was created.
The pineapple on pizza debate has been the cause of many friendships ending since it was first created - OK, that is a little dramatic but people truly have some very strong feelings about it.
The rise in popularity of social media means that the pineapple debate grows each day - hey have you ever innocently snapped a photo of your ham and pineapple pizza for your Instagram only to be met with tirades of abuse? Who knew pizza would cause such strong opinions! For the record though, we are firmly of the belief that pineapple on pizza is great!
Frozen pizza production also helped to create the pizza boom by making it something that more people could get their hands, and mouths, on! The first frozen pizza is thought to have been made in 1957 by Celentano’s.
They quickly became very popular, and to this day, pizza remains one of the most popular frozen meals. It made pizza accessible, particularly given the 1950s and 1960s were eras of convenience, with many homes starting to buy appliances such as fridge/freezer combinations and microwaves to make instant meals.
However, the fact that pizza was now being made to be able to be frozen and cooked at a later date, the pizza recipes had to change. Pizzas now had to have lots of sauce put on them to stop the dough from drying out.
Likewise, changes had to be made to the cheese and dough itself to make sure it was able to withstand being frozen and then cooked. This can be thought of as a sort of commercialization. It was a way of getting pizza to the masses.
It was less about quality and more about quantity - getting the pizzas into as many different stores so that many more people can have the convenience of a pizza at their will.
The fact still remains, though, that pizza, in any of the above forms, is very popular. People do not seem to be put off by how vastly different a frozen pizza is to a pizza from a tiny family-run pizzeria in Napoli, and really we do not think there is anything wrong with that. A pizza is a pizza, and whichever way you prefer to eat it is fine.
Of course, we, as well as many other people, cannot think of anything better than taking a forkful of freshly made pizza with basil picked from the garden, soft dough, and creamy mozzarella on a sunny evening in Italy.
That being said, equally, one of our favorite pastimes is getting our favorite frozen pizza out, popping it in the oven and enjoying it with a beer whilst we binge our favorite series.
Weird and Wonderful pizzas from around the globe
The variations of pizza we can have today amaze us, and certainly, wherever you go in the world you will likely discover many more weird and wonderful pizza toppings.
The best thing about pizza, at least in our eyes is that it can be topped with absolutely anything. After all, that is likely how the very first topped flatbreads started out way back when the Ancient civilizations were creating them.
We talked in our introductions about some of the different toppings that chain pizza restaurants have created, but just for fun, we thought we would tell you about some others that are perhaps not to everyone’s taste from countries around the world. Let’s see what you think about these….
- In Japan, there was squid ink and shrimp pizza. Not everyone’s cup of tea (or should that be a slice of pizza?), but surely a hit with seafood fans?
- The Cadbury Creme Egg pizza became something of a social media sensation in 2016 when a restaurant in England created a sweet pizza topped with the famous Easter chocolate, marshmallows, and merengues. A sweet pizza just shouldn’t work, but it really does….
- The KFC pizza incorporated two of the most popular types of fast food. This was popularized in India and the Philippines, but lots of countries around the world have also adopted it
- Crocodile pizza….of course, this could only be in Australia. You can chow down on some saltwater crocodile topped pizza in a Sydney hotel
- Cicada topped pizza. This pizza apparently has a nutty taste and comes from Missouri….we think you must be ‘nutty’ to try it!
- Talking of nutty, there was a peanut butter and jelly pizza that we came across once… we would try it!
- Full English breakfast pizza. If you have ever been to the United Kingdom you will know all about their penchant for a breakfast filled with grease and salt. The full English is packed with fried eggs, bacon, sausage, and of course, the all-important baked bean. Delicious, yes….but not on a pizza!
Some of them were even weirder than this, believe it or not...and we won’t even mention the cauliflower-based pizza that health gurus swear by! Stop trying to make cauliflower dough happen, it is not going to happen! Seriously though, we are all for being healthy but a pizza needs dough, right?
Pizza preferences aside, there have been some impressive feats achieved when it comes to all things pizza-related. Some amazing modern-day pizza milestones have been achieved, cementing even further how popular pizza is today.
In 2012, there was a record set in Rome for the biggest pizza. It measured 13,570 square feet in total. It was named after the Roman emperor Octavian Augustus.
There have also been records made for the world’s longest pizza and most expensive pizza. The popularity of pizza doesn’t stop there, though.
As if it wasn’t enough to honor pizza forever with world records set, there is even a National Pizza Month. This was first created in the 1980s and takes place in the United States and Canada in the month of October.
Today, pizza is one of the most widely eaten foods. Dominos remains one of the most popular chain restaurants in the world and is certainly the most popular pizza chain.
The history of it is colorful and diverse, and in every slice of pizza eaten there is just that little bit of Italy sprinkled in there, no matter how far removed the pizzas of today are from the pizzas of Napoli.
To conclude, we first want to thank you for sticking with us to learn all about the interesting origins of pizza. We hope that we have given you a slice of knowledge about one of the nation’s favorite foods.
Pizza, as we are sure you can see, has an extremely vibrant history. From its very first roots as a topped flatbread in the antiquity eras to being sold by street food vendors for the poor people of Napoli, to gaining royal interest by the namesake of the Margherita pizza, and up to now with the popularity of pizza chain all around the world, it is safe to say that pizza is not going anywhere anytime soon.
The versatile food can be both a snack or a meal, and it has long been a comfort meal for many people. As we mentioned earlier, whether your 2 or 92, pizza is a hearty meal for anyone - children, hungover college students, and older family members alike.
Because of the nature of pizza, and the fact that they are big, that they are usually cut into sections, and that they come in a handy box, pizza lends itself well to being a shareable food. This has meant it is also a popular food choice for dates!
The commercialization of pizza as a convenient food has led it to worldwide fame, with countries such as China and Japan welcoming it with open arms.
In fact, in recent years Pizza Hut has opened over 1000 stores in China, a country known to typically prefer lighter meals and far healthier foods. The different toppings you can put on a pizza mean that they can be adapted to suit any and all cultures.
We really hope that our article has allowed you an insight into pizza, beyond the fact that it is just a delicious meal. Thank you for reading our article.
If you have gotten to this point without ordering a pizza, you are better than us! Now, get on your phone and get yourself a deep pan pepperoni straight to your door before we beat you to it!