Who Invented Pizza?

How was pizza invented? Who invented pizza? Like so many questions regarding the invention of objects, this question is more difficult to answer then it would first appear.

From what historians know, while people have been eating pizza-like foods for a fair number of centuries, what we currently think of as pizza was created less than 200 years ago, allegedly created by Raffaele Esposito around 1889. Let’s take a deeper dive into the creation of pizza and explore its likely origins.

The Long History Of Pizza

While not pizza as we conceive of it today, people have been eating pizza-like foods for thousands of years. Italian and French archaeologists operating in Sardinia found evidence of bread baked around 7000 years ago, and the evidence suggests that the bread was leavened. Around the sixth century BCE, the soldiers of Persian King Darius the First would create flatbreads topped with dates and cheese. It is also suggested that modern pizza could have been influenced by a food called pizzarelle, a type of kosher Passover cookie enjoyed by Roman Jews. It has also been suggested that other Italian paschal breads were the basis for pizza.

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Various kinds of flatbreads have been found in civilizations around the world. For instance, ancient China had a flatbread known as bing, which was produced in the shape of a disk. Meanwhile, India also had a flatbread called paratha, which incorporated fat into the bread. South Asian and Central Asian cultures had both unleavened and leavened bread, called roti and naan respectively. Europe was also home to similar dishes created by combining a flat pastry with vegetables, meat, and cheese like the French quiche and the German zwiebelkuchen.

Many people in the Mediterranean region ate flatbreads topped substances like oils, spices, and fruits. The Egyptians and Greeks were known to eat these dishes. A historian by the name of Cato the Edler chronicled the history of Rome sometime in the third century, and in his documents, he described a dish that was made out of round slices of bread and topped with herbs and olives. The historian Virgil later described a similar dish almost 200 years after Cato the Elder, and cooking implements likely used to make such foods were excavated from Pompeii’s ruins, suggesting that citizens of the region produced similar food around the time of Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in approximately 72 C.E.

Pizza In Naples

Combinations of bread and other food types are common enough that by the time of the mid-1800s, people in Naples, Italy were eating flatbread combined with herbs and cheese. One of the most common explanations for the origin of pizza is that in 1889, the King and Queen of Italy, Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia, visited the city and had a restaurant owner by the name of Raffaele Esposito produce some of the dishes for them. Esposito’s restaurant was named the Pizzeria di Pietro.

It is often reported that Esposito created three different versions of the dish. One of these dishes was covered in mozzarelle cheese, tomato, and basil, which was intended to symbolize the three colors found on the Italian flag. Queen Margherita allegedly favored this dish, and Esposito named it the Pizza Margherita after her. The Pizzeria di Pietro can still be found in Naples, although it isn’t entirely clear that the story happened as it is reported, with some food historians having doubts about the creation of the Margherita pizza.

Combining the flatbread with tomato as a topping is arguably what created pizza as we know it. Tomatoes were not widely consumed in Europe and the Americas throughout the 16th century, as it was believed by many Europeans that the tomato was actually poisonous in nature, owing to the fact that other fruits in the nightshade family of plant are often poisonous. Nonetheless, by the time of the 18th century, combining tomatoes and flatbread was a common practice in and around Naples.

Even if the story didn’t happen exactly as it was told, pizza is still an extremely important part of the history of cuisine in Naples, and of Naples’ history in general. There is an Italian trade group called the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana which is dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of Naples and its pizza. The AVPN is of the opinion that a genuine Margherita Pizza can only be topped with basil, buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, and locally grown San Marzano tomatoes.

It is speculated that pizza arrived in the United States with the influx of a large number of Italian immigrants during the late 19th century. It is possible that the first pizzeria in North America was Lombardi’s, built in 1905 on Spring Street in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City by Gennaro Lombardi. Lombardi’s restaurant still stands today and it proudly proclaims that it is the site of the first pizzeria in the United States.

Over the course of the next century, pizzerias would open up in regions with other large Italian immigrant populations, opening in other places in New York City, New Jersey, and even Chicago. While Chicago is known today for its deep-dish style pizza, it wasn’t until 1943, during the second world war, that Chicago’s pizzeria Uno opened. However, it wouldn’t be until sometime later, during the 1950s, that pizza would start to become popular with Americans overall. Rose Totino was a pizzeria owner who was responsible for the invention of frozen pizza sometime in the 1950s. Meanwhile, the first-ever Pizza Hut was established in Wichita, Kansas during the year of 1958. Domino’s Pizza would open in 1960, while Little Ceasar’s opened in 1959.

Photo: Daria-Yakovleva via Pixabay, CC0

In terms of pizza consumption in the United States today, it is estimated that American consume roughly 350 slices of pizza every second. Pepperoni is the most popular topping choice for pizzas, with around 35% of those slices topped with pepperoni. Favorite toppings differ around the world, with people in India enjoying minced mutton, pickled ginger, and paneer cheese. Meanwhile, Japanese pizzas are often topped with squid and eel are popular dishes, as are Pizzas made with Mayo Jaga (mayonnaise made with bacon and potato in it). Brazilian pizzas are often made with green peas.

Canada also has its own pizza culture. A Canadian pizza is usually created with bacon, mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, and tomato sauce. The mushrooms and bacon on the pizza are what create a “Canadian” pizza. Pizza-ghetti is a popular meal served in the province of Québec at various restaurants created by slicing a pizza in half and combining it with some spaghetti and tomato-based sauce. Some pizzas are even made using spaghetti as a pizza topping, with the mozzarella cheese melted on top.

General Facts About Pizza

Here are some random facts about pizza:

New York, Boston, Trenton, New Jersey and New Haven, Connecticut are the first four known American cities to sell pizza. These four cities also possessed a large number of Italian immigrants around the beginning of the 20th century.

Initially, pizzas were only sold by the pie, with the practice of selling pizza by the slice presumably started by Patsy Lancieri of Patsy’s Pizzeria, based in New York City, sometime around 1933. After realizing that selling pizza by the slice brought in more customers, this practice was quickly adopted by other restaurants.

Despite ham and pineapple pizza being referred to as Hawaiian pizza, the pizza style was actually invented by Sam Panopoulos in 1962. Panopolous owned a pizzeria located in Canada and was a Greece native.

Nolan Bushnell is mainly known for his role as the co-founder of the video game company Atari, but Bushnell also had a role in proliferating pizza across the United States. Bushnell founded Chucky cheese, with the intention of making more money off of videogame consoles.

In 2001 the first ever pizza delivery was made to outer space, with Pizza Hut sending a 6-inch salami pizza to the international space station. Approximately 12 years later, in 2013, a 3-D printer that could cook pizza in roughly a minute and 15 seconds was created by NASA funded scientists. The printer works by spraying on micronutrients and flavors onto dough.

There are four different kinds of mozzarella used to create pizzas. The vast majority of American pizzerias use a special type of mozzarella, frequently referred to as “pizza cheese”. This mozzarella is made out of whole milk or part skim milk. Meanwhile, other kinds of mozzarella include a fresh Italian mozzarella referred to as burrata, which is known for its creamy taste, a mozzarella that utilizes milk from water buffaloes in Italy (mozzarella di bufala), and fior di latte (made from cow’s milk instead of buffalo milk).

The most profitable days for pizzerias are typically Super Bowl Sunday, and Halloween. Other major pizza delivery days include New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and the day before Thanksgiving, however.

Tom Monaghan is the founder of Domino’s Pizza, and he created the Domino’s College of Pizza-ology, a business management program. Monaghan is one of a  handful of individuals on the planet to have an advanced degree in Pizza-ology.

About Daniel Nelson

Daniel obtained his BS and is pursuing a Master's degree in the science of Human-Computer Interaction. He hopes to work on projects which bridge the sciences and humanities. His background in education and training is diverse including education in computer science, communication theory, psychology, and philosophy. He aims to create content that educates, persuades, entertains and inspires.

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