While many Americans consider pizza a constant fixture of our country’s cuisine, no one really takes time in between bites to ponder its origin or exactly how it rose to the top as our no. 1 comfort food.
Pizza, of course, hails from Italy, but there is much more to the story than it being miraculously created one day in a countryside villa. The popularity of pizza led to October being declared National Pizza month, so its founding and early history warrants a look back.
The base of all pizza is the bread. Baked thick or crispy, bread was eaten standalone for centuries prior to topping it with sauce, cheese and pepperoni. Humans have been consuming bread as meals since 10,000 B.C. Varieties of focaccia and flatbreads can be traced to ancient Roman and Greek times.
What transformed simple bread into the pizza we recognize today was the introduction of tomato slathered on top. Tomatoes were brought to Europe from America in the late 1500’s, but were originally thought to be poisonous due to their similarity to fruits in their nightshade family.
However, by the 1700’s the underclass in and outside of Naples began using tomatoes to add some flavor on top of the bland bread. Soon, the tasty treat caught on throughout the region, spreading throughout all levels of society.
The 1800’s began a time of pizza craftsmanship. Chefs were experimenting with different aspects of thick crust, thin crust, cheese, tomatoes, and toppings to create the “perfect pizza.” Pepperoni itself was first introduced as a pizza topping in America and surprisingly not in Italy.
Similar to ricotta in lasagna and chicken Parmesan, pepperoni is an Italian-American creation. It has roots in Italy with its close brother salami, but it is not exactly the same. Salami is much more popular in Italy and is less spicy than pepperoni, which translates to “large peppers” in Italian.
While rooted deep in Italy’s history, pizza has grown into a global treasure. Be it in China, India, or Brazil, pizza is on a menu somewhere, but there’s always a slight twist to the look and feel, crust and toppings.
For example, in the “homeland” Romans prefer thin and crispy while in Naples, it is much more popular to have a slightly thicker and softer pizza. Americans have adapted their own styles such as the classic, folded over New York slices and deep dish Chicago pies. No matter where you are, National Pizza Month allows everyone to celebrate the glorious pizza and its cheesy history.