Pizza is a genuine global food phenomenon. It now generates around $135 billion dollars worldwide per annum. It wasn’t always a global sensation though. It grew from humble beginnings. In this blog, we’ll trace the history of the dish from humble peasant food to a global industry.
The basic form of a pizza is a flatbread. These have been eaten around the world for thousands of years. There are accounts of the Ancient Greeks, Phoenicians and Ancient Egyptians eating flatbreads, with the latter being known to guzzle them down with large amounts of beer. These flatbreads would be cooked by placing them on hot stones. The Greeks would call them plankatos and they were used as an edible plate with stew or broth put on top of them. These were more like the modern-day focaccia than pizzas. They were known to be eaten in Rome, Egypt and Babylon and are documented and praised by Herotodus and Cato the Elder.
Origins of Pizza
Though flatbreads have definitely existed for thousands of years the origin of the word pizza is up for debate. There is a school of thought that believes that it’s derived from the Latin word pinsa, meaning flatbread. There is a legend that Roman soldiers ate Matzoh, a Jewish flatbread, when they were stationed in Palestine and wanted to take the food home with them. There are archaeological records that show flatbreads had been eaten before that time in Roman-controlled areas.
Flatbreads used to be garnished with olive oil and herbs and started to take shape into the pizza we all know and love today. In the 13th century, Goths introduced water buffalo into modern-day Italy and the milk from these buffalo proved to be excellent for making cheese due to the milk’s high milk solids content.
Tomatoes also made their way into Italy from the Americas after the Spanish Conquistadores invasion in the 16th Century. The plant was regarded as a decorative plant for its first few years in Europe but soon started to be eaten and prized. It is believed that by the 1830s tomatoes had made their way onto pizza and was being served in the world’s first pizzeria, the “Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba” in Naples.
In 1886 Francesco de Bouchard wrote about food in Naples, commenting that pizzas in the area were usually topped with garlic and oil as well as origanum and garlic cloves. Others had grated cheese and lard and topped with a few leaves of basil. He also mentioned the use of prosciutto, tomato and folded pizzas also known as Calzones.
One thing we know for certain is that on 11th June 1889 Neapolitan pizza maker Raffaele Esposito, a chef at Pizzeria Brandi in Naples was tasked with making three pizzas for King Umberto and his Queen Consort Margherita of Savoy. He made one representing the three colours of the Italian flag – tomato for red, mozzarella for white and basil for green. The queen loved the pizza and it was named in her honour. The Pizza Margherita was born.
Pizza was a little-known food outside of Italy before Italian immigrants started moving to the United States, taking their recipes with them. In 1905 Gennaro Lombardi opened the USA’s first pizzeria in Manhattan, New York City. The Italian immigrants loved it, as did the other New York dwellers. So much so that Lombardi’s is still open today.
By the 1930s pizza was spreading its way across America and by 1943 the first Chicago style pizza was made by Uno’s. This is a different style with a thicker base, deeper toppings and cooked in a pan. The deep pan pizza was born!
In 1945, Ira Nevin, a soldier returning from the war in Europe had sampled pizza and wanted to make it accessible to more people. He invented the Baker’s Pride gas-fired pizza oven, which allowed restaurants to easily install pizza ovens with no need for wood burning.
With pizza ovens sprawling their way across America, a new sensation was born – the pizza chain. In 1958 Dan and Frank Carney borrowed $600 from their parents and opened a 25-seat restaurant in Wichita, Kansas. They had very little start-up cash so opted for a name with as few letters on the sign as possible. Pizza Hut was born. The idea of selling pizzas to the masses took off quickly with Little Caesar’s opening in 1959, Domino’s in 1960 and by 1989 Pap John had got into the game. Today there are 11000 Pizza Hut restaurants worldwide.