Who invented Pizza?

The other day, I ate a frozen pizza. It was edible. I don’t know where to buy a good pizza in my city, but I know there must be one place, somewhere, because pizza is everywhere! Even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles like them, so it’s clearly a universal meal. But…

Who created the pizza?

To answer a simple question like this, we’ll have to determine what is a pizza. For some, it’s flatbreads with toppings. In that case, we have to go back far away in time. But how far?

The word pizza—or a Neapolitan version of the word—was apparently first used around 1000 A.D. but we already ate some sort of “pizza” before that. Naples was a Greek colony at first and so it was the Greeks who developed the basics of what was to become the pizza we know today (Foods similar to pizza have been made since antiquity). Naturally, Naples being a city in Italy, the recipe of the pizza traveled around the country and became an Italian specialty.

But “pizza“ essentially means “pie“ and we can argue that today pizza is more than just flatbreads with toppings. That’s why the Neapolitan recipe is what is associated with this meal. The sfiziosa cooked by pizzaioli, that soft, baked crispy dough, is what became the synonym with pizza.

The Neapolitan-style pizza started to be known around the world (well, in the English-speaking part of it at least) in the mid-19th century.

The famous Pizza Margherita

Who invented Pizza alla Margherita, the modern pizza?

As the story goes, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889 and wanted to eat something that would be a change from their French cuisine diet. To satisfy the royal request, Raffaele Esposito created three special pizzas. The Queen particularly liked the one that was made to look like the Italian flag—with three ingredients: tomato sauce (red), mozzarella (white), and basil (green). Of course, Esposito had to name his recipe after the Queen, it’s the commercial thing to do. That’s how the pizza Margherita came to be.

Naturally, this was only possible because of the use of tomatoes, the American element of the pizza. It was only during the 16th century that Spanish and Portuguese explorers returned from the New World with this new fruit. Back then, the tomato was not perceived as a great discovery. In fact, many Europeans believed it to be poisonous. After they arrived in Italy, tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals. It started to be incorporated into the local cuisine in the late 17th or early 18th century.

Deep Dish Pizza. Photo by Ian Stroud

What About the American Pizza?

Without surprise, the pizza was imported to the United States by Italian immigrants in the late 19th century—by most accounts, the first pizzeria opened in New York in 1905, it was Gennaro Lombardi’s. It was popular among the Italians living in big cities, but it was not immediately adopted by other communities. The Great Depression, then World War II changed that. Veterans from the Italian Campaign came back with a craving for more pizzas.

At first, two different styles of pizza appeared. There was the thin-crust pizza on the East Coast—with toppings similar to the Napolitean style—and the double-crust pizza on the West Coast. And then, in 1943, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo invented Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. Of course, with time, more recipes were created and pizza became immensely popular.

Because of capitalism, pizza chains were created. The first was Shakey’s Pizza, founded in 1954 in Sacramento, California. Four years later, Pizza Hut was founded in Wichita, Kansas. And then more and more.

Do you like reading about food? I also search for who invented peanut butter, Parmesan Cheese, the Apple Crumble, and more…

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