The History of Pizza: Where was it invented and by whom?

Showing a pizza margherita to represent the history of pizza
Picture from "Duckahouse" Pixabay

The story of pizza is as layered and textured as the dish itself. Tracing its origins, one discovers a rich tapestry of culinary history interwoven with cultural shifts, ancient civilizations, and the influence of royals. While today it’s an iconic global dish, its journey began in modest kitchens and street corners. This tale of flatbreads transforming into today’s beloved slices is not just about food; it’s a testament to human innovation. Delving into its past, we’ll uncover the mystery of where this dish was born and the ingenious minds behind it. Join us on this gastronomic voyage.

Pizza History Timeline

Ancient Times

  • c. 600 BC: Records of ancient civilizations, including the Greeks and Egyptians, show they consumed flatbreads with various toppings.

16th Century:

  • c. 1522: Tomatoes were introduced to Europe from the Americas. Initially believed to be poisonous, they eventually became a staple in the Italian diet, leading to the birth of classic pizza.

17th & 18th Century

  • Late 1600s: The basic Margherita-style pizza began taking shape in Naples, Italy, with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil.

19th Century

  • 1830: The world’s first pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, officially opened its doors in Naples, Italy, serving traditional Neapolitan pizzas.
  • 1889: The Margherita pizza is named in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy. Legend has it that Pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito created this pizza resembling the Italian flag’s colors: red (tomato), white (mozzarella), and green (basil).

Early 20th Century

  • 1905: The first official pizzeria in the U.S., Lombardi’s, opens in New York City.
  • 1924: Vincent Bruno introduces Chicago to its first pizza at his restaurant.

Mid 20th Century

  • 1943: Ike Sewell invents the Chicago Deep-Dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno.
  • 1945: The concept of pizza franchises starts with Shakey’s Pizza.
  • 1957: Frozen pizzas are introduced to the market by the Celentano Brothers.
  • Late 1950s: Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Little Caesars begin operations, revolutionizing the pizza industry with their franchise models.

Late 20th Century

  • 1984: “30 minutes or it’s free.” Domino’s Pizza popularizes delivery guarantee.
  • 1994: Pizza over the Internet is ordered for the first time.

21st Century

  • Early 2000s: Rapid expansion of online delivery platforms and apps.
  • 2010s: Technological advances include drone and autonomous vehicle pizza deliveries in some cities.
  • 2020s: Sustainable and alternative pizzas gain traction, with more establishments offering vegan, gluten-free, and eco-friendly options.

Who Invented Pizza?: The Birthplace of a Culinary Icon

The invention of pizza is a matter of evolution rather than a singular moment of creation. Ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, had their versions of flatbreads topped with various ingredients. These breads laid the foundation for what we now recognize as pizza. However, the modern iteration of this dish traces its origins to the bustling streets of 18th-century Naples. During this time, the city’s poor, the lazzaroni, sought simple, economical food. Vendors responded with what we now know as pizza. Initially, this dish was a necessity meal and transformed into a culinary emblem celebrated worldwide.

City view of Naples the founder of real pizza and the first pizzeria
Picture from “David Mark” Pixabay

Where was Pizza Invented?: The Land of Its Emergence

Naples, Italy, claims the honor of being the birthplace of pizza. Nestled against the Tyrrhenian Sea, this city witnessed the pizza’s evolution from flatbread to the topped delight we relish today. As the 18th century dawned, Naples experienced an influx of peasants from surrounding regions, causing a surge in its population. This increased demand for affordable food, leading street vendors to innovate and serve pizzas with toppings ranging from garlic and salt to tomatoes and cheese. Despite Europe’s initial skepticism towards tomatoes, a newfound member of their culinary palette, it soon became an indispensable pizza topping. A dish destined for global adoration began its journey in these vibrant Neapolitan streets.

Where did pizza originate?: Tracing Back to its Roots

Pizza, in its primitive form, has been enjoyed for millennia. Ancient civilizations were no strangers to the allure of flatbreads adorned with toppings. The Greeks savored plakous, a flatbread topped with herbs, onions, and garlic. Persians had their version where they layered cheese and dates on fortified breads. But while these forefathers of pizza were enjoyed across ancient terrains, Naples, Italy, truly transformed and popularized the dish. Amidst economic struggles and a need for quick, inexpensive sustenance, the modern pizza took shape in the vibrant alleyways of 18th-century Naples, forever altering the course of culinary history.

In What Year Did the World’s First Pizzeria Open?

The world’s first pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, was graced in 1738. Initially, it began as a modest stand catering to the peddlers in Naples. As its reputation blossomed, it expanded its horizons by incorporating tables and chairs around a century later. This establishment garnered royal attention, too, with King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies making an anonymous visit, perhaps to savor a slice and sense the zeitgeist of his people. Today, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba is a testament to pizza’s enduring legacy, from a simple vendor’s stand to an iconic establishment marking the inception of pizzerias worldwide.

When did pizza come to America?

The American affair with pizza began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A large influx of Italian immigrants, particularly between 1880 and 1920, brought with them hopes and dreams and their homeland’s rich flavors and culinary traditions. Initially, the Italian-American communities introduced pizza by preparing and selling it from their homes. By 1905, the United States proudly hosted its first pizzeria in New York City’s Little Italy. Though a newcomer, pizza rapidly etched itself into the American culinary landscape. Its journey from immigrant kitchens to becoming a national sensation is a testament to its universal appeal. Over time, regional variations emerged, each with a unique flavor and story, further embedding the pizza’s roots deep into American soil.

From Naples to Rome: Its Story in Italy

The modern pizza concept took form in the sun-soaked streets of 18th-century Naples. As a booming city, Naples saw an influx of peasants. Economic constraints posed a challenge. How to feed an ever-growing population affordably? Street vendors offered a solution with flatbreads adorned with varying toppings, from garlic and salt to cheese and basil. This Neapolitan invention was, at its heart, a sustenance for the common folk, the lazzaroni.

The Royal Endorsement

By 1889, pizza’s reputation was about to transform. King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy’s visit to Naples led to the christening of the now-famous Pizza Margherita. A pizzeria chef crafted three different pizzas for the royals, and the one replicating the colors of the Italian flag—red tomatoes, white mozzarella, and green basil—captured Queen Margherita’s heart. With her endorsement, pizza’s status was elevated from a dish for peasants to one fit for royalty.

Statue of queen Margherita
Picture from “photosforyou” Pixabay

Rome Joins the Party

The allure of pizza wasn’t limited to Naples. Rome developed its version—thinner, crispier, and often garnished with fresh vegetables, anchovies, or olives. These differences highlighted the beautiful regional variations within Italy, proving that while Naples might be the birthplace, pizza’s charm permeated beyond city boundaries.

Pizza became an Italian treasure and a global phenomenon as the decades passed. Yet, its story, rooted deeply in Italian soil, reminds us of a nation’s humble beginnings, royal encounters, and myriad flavors.

The Role of Ingredients: More than Just Toppings

The allure of pizza isn’t merely in its form but in its components. Each ingredient tells a unique tale, and their harmonious melding is what creates the masterpiece we adore.

Cheeses: Mozzarella and Beyond

Mozzarella stands tall in the cheese hierarchy of pizza. Originating in Southern Italy, this cheese’s creamy texture and melt-in-your-mouth property make it an essential. But mozzarella isn’t alone. Varieties like Provolone, Ricotta, and Gorgonzola often grace pizzas, each lending a distinct flavor. From tangy to smoky, cheese plays more than a supporting role; it’s a lead actor in this culinary play.

The Tomato Story: From Suspicion to Staple

Tomatoes, now a pizza mainstay, had an uncertain start in Europe. Initially viewed with skepticism due to their nightshade family ties, they took time to gain trust. But when they did, there was no looking back. With their tangy sweetness, these ruby-red jewels transformed from a suspicious newcomer to an irreplaceable staple on our pies. Their evolution in the pizza landscape is nothing short of remarkable.

Dough: The Unsung Hero

While toppings get the limelight, the dough forms the stage upon which they shine. A fusion of flour, water, yeast, and salt, this simple mixture undergoes a magical transformation. The result? A crispy base on the outside, soft within, and undeniably crucial. The dough isn’t just the foundation. It’s the soul that binds the ingredients, making every slice an experience to relish.

History of different pizza styles

Across the globe, pizza has taken on various forms, flavors, and techniques, adapting to the tastes and resources of each region it touches. From its origin in Italy, this beloved dish began a culinary journey, evolving with every border it crossed. The United States boasts several iconic styles, each rooted in a particular city’s history and culture. But America isn’t the sole innovator. From deep-frozen varieties that offer convenience to distinctive toppings that provoke passionate debate, the story of pizza styles is as rich and diverse as its toppings. Dive into this flavorful voyage and discover how pizza has transformed throughout history.

American Pizza – U.S. Cities and Their Unique Flavors

America, a melting pot of cultures, has made its distinct mark on the world of pizza. As immigrants brought their pizza traditions to its shores, cities began infusing their unique tastes and culinary stories. Detroit introduced a rectangular wonder, while Chicago went deep with its thick crust. New York opted for a foldable, thin slice, and Hawaii stirred debates with its tropical twist. Each city introduced a new flavor and embedded a piece of its history and essence into every bite, creating a diverse pizza map nationwide.

Detroit pizza with pepperoniDetroit-Style Pizza – Motor City’s Legacy

In the heart of Motor City, a unique pizza style was born. Detroit-style pizza, characterized by its rectangular shape, features a thick, focaccia-like crust crisp on the outside yet soft within. Originating in 1946, it resulted from a bar owner’s quest for something new. Toppings are pressed into the dough, and the blend of brick and mozzarella cheeses gives it a rich, golden edge. A far cry from the traditional round pie, Detroit’s contribution to the pizza world is a testament to the city’s innovative spirit, blending tradition with a touch of modernity.

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza – The Windy City’s Culinary Revolution

This culinary titan lies amid Chicago’s skyscrapers and bustling streets: the deep-dish pizza. It was born in the mid-20th century, and this hearty variant challenged traditional pizza norms with its thick, buttery crust that forms a deep “dish,” cradling a generous layer of toppings. 

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza filled with cheese
Picture from “Mary Pahlke” Pixabay

Origin stories tell of two restaurateurs initially planning a Mexican eatery, but a twist of fate led them to craft this now iconic pizza. Layers of cheese lie directly on the crust, followed by meats and vegetables, and finally sealed with a robust tomato sauce on top. More a pie than a flatbread, Chicago’s deep dish stands as a bold statement in the world of pizza. A heavy and filling slice represents the city’s penchant for grandeur and its fearless approach to culinary innovation.

Pizzeria with several New York PizzasNew York-Style – The Big Apple’s Twist on Tradition

New York’s contribution to the pizza world is undeniably unique. A city known for its fast pace and melting pot of cultures, it gave birth to a thin-crust variant that’s both convenient and flavorful. The iconic thin slice, suitable for a fold, sets it apart. Instead of fresh tomatoes, a rich, simmered sauce graces its surface. Grated low-moisture mozzarella replaces fresh chunks, resulting in an even melt.

The pie often extends beyond a regular plate, emphasizing its generous size. Many argue that New York’s distinctive tap water is responsible for the crust’s standout taste. While the origins trace back to Italian immigrants, the New York-style pizza represents the city itself: vast, diverse, and unapologetically bold.

Hand holding a slice of Hawaiian pizza with pineappleHawaiian Pizza

Hawaiian pizza, a name that evokes tropical breezes and island life, has an origin that might surprise many. It didn’t spring from Hawaii’s islands but from Canada’s chilly expanse. In the early 1960s, Sam Panopoulos, a Greek immigrant in Ontario, had the daring idea to place canned pineapple on pizza. His experiment led to the birth of the now-renowned Hawaiian pizza.

The combination of savory ham and sweet pineapple became instantly polarizing. For some, it was a harmonious blend of flavors, bridging salty and sweet. For others, it was, and remains, a culinary misstep that breaks the cardinal rules of pizza-making.

Controversial Toppings: The Pineapple Debate

The debate over pineapple as a pizza topping is as intense as it is enduring. Proponents argue that its sweet and juicy profile contrasts the pizza’s typically savory elements. Just as some enjoy the combination of salty and sweet in other dishes, why not on a pizza?

However, the critics are just as passionate. Many purists insist that the sweetness of fruit has no place on a traditional pizza. Some claim it makes the crust soggy or its flavor overwhelms the other ingredients.

The divide is so profound that even notable figures, from chefs to celebrities, have weighed in on the issue. There have been light-hearted campaigns to “ban” the topping or defend its honor.

Yet, regardless of which side of the debate one falls on, the enduring popularity of Hawaiian pizza cannot be denied. Decades after its invention, it continues to be a menu staple in many pizzerias worldwide, a testament to its lasting appeal and controversy.

Other Styles

Across the globe, various regions have adapted the classic pizza, each infusing a bit of local flair. From the Pissaladière of France, reminiscent of a pizza with a thick, bread-like base, to the Lahmajoun of the Middle East, which couples a thin crust with spicy meat toppings. The spicy “Pizza Africana” from Germany is an unusual blend of flavors with fruits and curry. Japan offers pizza with unique toppings like teriyaki chicken and mayo jaga, a combination of mayonnaise, potato, and bacon. Each style captures the essence of its origin, highlighting the universal adaptability of pizza.

Frozen Pizza

The convenience of frozen food and the global love for pizza resulted in frozen pizzas. They first graced freezer aisles in the 1950s, offering families a quick, affordable alternative to homemade or takeout. Over the years, frozen pizzas have evolved significantly. Today’s options range from basic cheese and pepperoni to gourmet flavors rivaling pizzerias. Innovations in crust technology, such as rising crusts and gluten-free variants, have expanded choices for consumers. Despite purists arguing that they can’t match the fresh variety, their lasting place in global cuisine is not denying. Their continued popularity showcases our enduring love for this versatile dish, whether fresh or frozen.

Seven pizza rolls on a plate with salsa in the middlePizza Rolls

Pizza Rolls Born was born from the age of convenience and is a modern twist on the traditional slice. These bite-sized treats, often filled with cheese, sauce, and various toppings, are a favorite for many, especially during gatherings or as quick snacks. Their evolution represents the adaptability of pizza, molding its classic flavors into new forms. From being a party favorite to a late-night snack, pizza rolls encapsulate the essence of pizza in a bite-sized delight.

Pizza Margherita – Royal Approval: The Margherita’s Tale

The Margherita holds a special place in the colorful tapestry of pizza’s history—legend whispers of its creation in 1889 in Naples.

The Royal Visit

It is said that Raffaele Esposito, a local pizzaiolo, crafted this pizza in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy’s visit. The ingredients were simple, chosen to represent the colors of the Italian flag: ripe red tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese, and fresh green basil.

More than Just a Name

Though skeptics argue the true origins of its name, Margherita’s impact is undeniable. It epitomizes the essence of Italian cuisine: fresh ingredients, simplicity, and robust flavors. Over time, this classic has traveled globally, cementing its status as a beloved staple. Its tale underscores the timeless allure of pizza, blending folklore, royalty, and culinary craftsmanship.

The Pizza Oven’s Evolution

The essence of pizza lies in its baking, and the journey of pizza ovens is nothing short of remarkable. Originally, pizzas were baked in wood-fired ovens, lending them a distinct smoky flavor, crispy crust, and a unique aroma. These ovens were made of brick or stone and were heated by burning wood, creating a radiant, intense heat essential for that quintessential Neapolitan pizza.

Pizza oven with burning wood
Louis Hansel – Unsplash

However, as urban spaces grew denser and the demand for pizza soared, there emerged a need for ovens that were efficient, consistent, and fit for commercial production. Enter the electric and gas ovens. These ovens offered temperature consistency and faster cooking times, revolutionizing pizzerias globally. The commercial conveyor oven, a brainchild of the late 20th century, allowed multiple pizzas to be baked simultaneously, meeting the demands of bustling city life.

The 21st century witnessed the infusion of technology into pizza ovens with the advent of digital controls, ensuring precision in temperature and timing. Some high-tech versions offer smartphone controls, remote monitoring, and advanced energy-saving features.

The Rise of Delivery Culture

Equally transformative is the way we receive our pizzas. Gone are the days when pizza was strictly a dine-in or pick-up affair. The onset of the automobile era made pizza delivery viable, but technology turned it into an industry standard. The late 20th century introduced the concept of “30 minutes or free,” made famous by large pizza chains, leveraging advancements in transportation.

Yet, the real game-changer was the internet. Online ordering platforms paved the way for a seamless and efficient pizza ordering experience. GPS technology enabled real-time tracking, ensuring customers knew precisely when their hot pizza would arrive.

The rise of smartphones further amplified this delivery culture. With dedicated apps, one can customize their pizza and choose the crust, toppings, and even the cheese’s meltiness level with a few taps. The latest in this evolution includes drone deliveries and autonomous vehicles, promising to redefine our pizza delivery experience further.

Summarize

Pizza, a global culinary sensation, has a rich tapestry of history that stretches back to ancient civilizations. While its early forms were humble flatbreads, Italy’s Naples transformed it into the delicious treat we recognize today. As it traveled, the dish adapted, with U.S. cities like Detroit, Chicago, and New York giving it their unique spins. Controversies, like the pineapple topping debate, have kept it in conversations. Ingredients, from cheese to tomatoes, play pivotal roles, making each slice a harmonious blend. Modern times have seen technological advances, with pizza ovens evolving and the rise of delivery culture reshaping our consumption habits.

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