The History of Pizza

Did you know that historians heavily debate the origin of pizza? With so many similar dishes coming from different birthplaces, narrowing down its abstract origin is difficult. In this article, we will pick apart the details to assess where pizza originated.

What Defines Pizza?

Because of so many similarities with other dishes of the past, determining where pizza originated starts with determining what defines a pizza.

Is it in the Crust?

Man with cupped hands holding a ball of pizza dough

What defines a pizza? First, the round, flat crust is a major contributor. Why is a pizza round, anyway? We could hyperfocus specifically on why it’s round, but researching “round bread” only leads to a broad past in practically every country. Similarly, if we narrowed in our search on “flatbreads,” we’d find them all around the world among many different cultures: think the Mexican tortilla, Indian naan, Greek pita, Italian focaccia, or the Chinese bing. With that line of logic, you could say pizza came from China…but that is misleading and inaccurate.

So, we can’t define pizza by shape alone. It must not only be round AND flat, but it must also be a wheat-based baked bread. Archeological evidence suggests that baked bread started some 7,000 years ago, so even that detail isn’t finite enough. Let’s get more specific. Pizza must be yeast-leavened bread, too. 

So, there you have it: The foundation of a pizza (i.e., the crust) must be wheat-based, yeast-leavened, round, and flat. Don’t worry; there’s more to a pizza than that.

Is it the Cheese?

A man’s hand spreading cheese over pizza dough and sauce

Having determined that the pizza we are looking for in history must include a round, flat, wheat-based, and yeast-leavened baked crust, we must also consider the cheese. Modern pizza, regardless of where you go, practically always includes cheese. This rules out any of the round flatbreads where cheese wasn’t part of that culture. Final answer: Pizza didn’t come from China.

This leads us to look at the history surrounding the Mediterranean. In 6th-century Persia, soldiers would use their battle shields to bake flatbread, which they topped with cheese and dates. Similarly, some scholars think that modern pizza most closely dates back to 2,000 years ago when Roman Jews started eating Pizzarelle, which was matzah topped with cheese and olive oil. Either of these could likely be the stepping stones of pizza, but there is still something missing for us to nail down its origin.

Is it the Sauce?

Someone’s hand spreading pizza sauce on pressed pizza dough with a wooden spoon

Tomato sauce is the final key ingredient that defines a pizza. It doesn’t get better than a bright, vibrant tomatoey sauce slathered on top of a crust and underneath the cheese. Sure, pizzerias use many variations, but at its roots, historic pizza should include some kind of tomato spread.

Being native to the Americas, tomatoes were only introduced to Europeans in the 1600s and were originally thought to be poisonous. Because of the confusion, they weren’t used as a common staple food in Naples, Italy until the 1700s. Based on our deductive reasoning, this means that any other candidate for the first pizza that existed before the 1700s is out of the race. This brings us to (what’s most likely) the first true pizza of record.

From the First Pizza Forward

During the earlier part of the 19th century, the “Marinara” was created – a flatbread topped with tomatoes, oregano, and cheese that was baked and later topped with basil. This quickly became popular in Italian culture and was heralded due to its color palette matching the Italian flag.

Despite being the closest version of what we consider as the first pizza, those toppings at the time were primarily considered sweet. It wasn’t until the late 1800s to early 1900s that pizza became a more popular savory dish.

Pizza in America

two people taking slices of pizza from a whole pizza with cheese stretching

As the flavor preference changed, so did the location of pizza. It was around this time that Italian immigration accelerated in the United States. Pizza quickly grew in popularity in America among Italian populations. It is generally accepted that the individual to open the first pizzeria was Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi in New York City. (Lombardi’s Pizza still exists in New York today.)

Although it was a favorite for many, pizza was still primarily consumed by Italians. It was only after World War II that American troops stationed in Italy came to love pizza. Upon their return to the states, the awareness and demand for pizza grew among the general population. From there, it quickly became a household favorite and transformed into what it is today.

What You’ll Find at Fat Daddy’s Pizzeria

Even though pizza today is found in practically every city, not all pizzerias are equal, especially when it comes to the caliber of taste. When looking for the best pizza in Utah, Fat Daddy’s Pizzeria should be your first stop. With quality ingredients like true caramelized onions, real roasted vegetables, and chef-quality flavor combinations, Fat Daddy serves a pizza fit for a king. Holding to the origins here in the states, Fat Daddy’s brings a true New York-style pizza to Provo, Utah.

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