The History Of Pizza

The history of pizza, from its origins as a Greek food, to its reincarnation today as an international treat.

Pizza is a modern favorite all over the world. But how did this meal get its start? Who made it first?

The idea for pizza is older than Italy. The Greeks first came up with the idea of baking bread in round, flat shapes and adding things on top. A combination of olive oils and certain spices was a favorite. Leaves were typical toppings, along with certain kinds of meat and even fruit. It's almost certain that Greeks would have used the tomato, except that it was not discovered at the time! True mozzarella cheese was at the time of the Greeks imported from India, which made it hard for anyone to get their hands on this cheese.

Pizza was first created by the baker Raffeale Esposito in Naples, Italy. According to legend, Esposito wanted to create a kind of bread that would stand apart from all other kinds sold in Naples. He first experimented with adding only cheese to bread, then added sauce underneath it and let the dough take the shape of a large round pie. His creation was immediately a favorite, and Esposito was called to make a pizza for the visit of King Umberto and Queen Margherita of Italy in 1889. He made a pizza of three colors-white cheese, red sauce and green basil spices, to mirror the Italian flag and show his loyalty to his country. It was a hit, and he named his creation the Margherita pizza after the queen.

In 1830, a pizzeria was established in Naples, making it possible for the rest of Italy to taste Esposito's creation. Pizza spread into other Italian cities, while at the same time Neopolitan pizza came into the limelight. This pizza brought garlic into the mix, as well as natural tomatoes and the freshest Naples cheese, famed for it's crumbly texture and unusually sharp taste. Dough was a simple affair, made only of yeast, flour, salt, and natural condensation. The process of cooking a pizza in a brick oven began at this time. While there were other variations-Bologna used a meat sauce on its pizza and certain areas of Venice added fresh vegetables and spices-the Neopolitan pizza became the hallmark of Italian food creation.

Pizza spread to America, England, France and Spain very rapidly after its Italian birth. It was little-known in these respective countries, however, until World War Two. After occupying Italian territory, many American and European soldiers tasted pizza and brought the memory to their homeland. In America, Italian immigrants had been selling pizza in their stores, and the first pizzeria had been opened by Gennuardo Lombardi in 1905. The American GI's popularized this feature of most Italian neighborhoods, drawing pizzerias out of Italian neighborhoods and into the hearts of every city in America. In fact, the square "Sicilian pizza" is an America invention! Real Sicilian pizza, made in Sicily, has no cheese and anchovies.

As with every international treat, pizza has its share of crazy facts and lore. February 9th is international Pizza Pie day. The Guinness Book of World Records has an entry for the largest pizza ever baked and eaten. According to the Book, this pizza made in Havana, Florida was 100 feet one inch across! This is nothing, though, when you consider that Americans eat over 100 acres of pizza per day, and an average of 23 pounds of pizza each per year. Pepperoni pizza is the average American ten-year-old's favorite food. Pizza is second only to hamburgers as America's favorite food.

The best part of these facts is, pizza is actually a healthy food! It contains vitamin A in tomato sauce, protein and calcium in mozzarella cheese, and complex carbohydrates in dough and oil. It's also a crowd-pleaser. For vegetarians, it poses no threat of meat. For the lactose intolerant, tomato pizza is the way to go. For those that must avoid acidic tomato sauce, white pizza is a favorite, containing only crust, cheese, spices and oils. Pizza topped with vegetables is a great way to avoid tomato sauce and cheese together, and certain varieties of pizza contain only oils and spices.

Put quite simply, pizza can be made with anything from the most healthy ingredients to the most fattening, which is ironically similar to its Greek orgins. It is a meal with many forms, for almost every kind of audience. It is sold in pockets, breads, rolls, and as various snack foods. You can get pan pizza, stuffed pizza, thin crust pizza, thick crust pizza, and bagel pizza; to name a few. Several areas of the United States even make pizza of completely different ingredients, like ice cream pizza and pizza cake. It has come a long way since its origin in Italy, and can now be termed a "world treat."

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