origins of pizza

A Slice of History: The Origins of Pizza

You’re bound to find at least one pizzeria in every city in America. There’s the thinner – and recommended folded – New York slice. Meanwhile, the midwest prefers a heavily sauced-up Chicago pie. Ultimately, pizza is ingrained in our culture. Most people know that it is an Italian creation. Still, not everyone knows the origins of pizza and the story of how pizza evolved from a local delicacy into a take-out staple.

“Pizza”: The Word

There are debates about the true origins of the word “pizza” in etymology or the study of words. However, a large number of etymologists agree that it came from an Old Italian word meaning “a point.” It later evolved into the Italian word “pizzicare.” This term means “to pinch or tuck.” Meanwhile, in modern Italian, pizza simply means “pie.”

Some etymologists believe the word also has roots in other languages. For instance, the Latin word “pinsa” means “flatbread.” There is also thought to be a connection to the Greek “pitta” and a Langobardic word bizzo, meaning “bite.”

Early Pizzas

A number of historians have pinned down the origins of pizza to the days of the Roman Empire.  Roman soldiers developed a taste for Jewish matzo while occupying Palestine. Into the Middle Ages pizza was said to have taken on a more modern look and taste. However, it was more similar to what we know today as focaccia, a flatbread. The dish was favored by peasants, who used simple ingredients like yeast to make the dough. They topped it with olive oil and herbs.

You might be wondering where the sauce and cheese come into play. The tomato did not reach Italy until the 16th century. Hence, this led to the late introduction of sauce in the late 1600s. Meanwhile, mozzarella cheese  (link to mozzarella blog)- originally made with Buffalo milk – came about in the 19th century. Today, in Italy, “mozzarella di buffalo” cannot be substituted in government-approved authentic pizza. The Italian government actually puts their stamp of approval on certain pizzerias to maintain authentic standards. Authentic Italian pizzerias shun the dried shredded mozzarella used on standard American pizzas.

Royal Inspiration

The standard tomato, mozzarella, and basil pizza that bears the most resemblance to the pizza we know today is the Margherita pizza. Historians credit Raffaele Esposito of the Pizzeria di Pietro in Naples as the creator. It is said he was inspired by the colors of the new Italian flag – red, white, and green. The name is derived from Queen Margherita, who visited Naples in 1889. Esposito dedicated his creation to her and named it after her. Needless to say, the margherita pizza was a hit with her and the public. It spread throughout the country and each region created their own version based on local ingredients.

How Immigrants and World War II Stimulated The Popularity of Pizza

Italian immigrants brought pizza with them to the United States in the late 19th century. Its existence was originally confined to the Northeast. The first pizzeria opened its doors in New York City in 1896. By then, the pizza stretched out to 18 inches in diameter or more. This was significantly larger than pizzas in Italy, which today we refer to as “personal pan” pizzas.

However, it was not until soldiers returned home from World War II that pizza truly captured the nation’s attention. After being stationed in Naples, many servicemen craved the pizzas they enjoyed overseas. Sales of pizza ingredients skyrocketed as a result. Oregano increased by 5,200 percent over 8 years in the 1940s. At that time, Sansone Foods witnessed the increase in the popularity of pizza and has helped to supply pizza makers with authentic Italian ingredients since its origins in 1945.

Today, pizza is an industry unto itself in America. Frozen food aisles are stocked to the brim with pizzas while both corporate restaurants and family-owned pizzerias continue to thrive. At Sansone, you can find all the ingredients you need to make your own pizza at home!