History of Pizza

     Mmmm…do you smell that? Fresh out of the oven, a steaming pie sits waiting to be devoured. Your senses are overtaken by the aroma of hot bread, melted cheese, simmering tomato sauce, spicy garlic, and sizzling pepperoni. Are you ready to dig into that favorite of all foods? What are we talking about? Pizza, of course!

Some kids like vegetables, and others don’t. Some kids love seafood, while others think fish should stay in the sea. Some kids think prime rib is a feast, yet others prefer hamburgers. One thing just about all kids can agree on, though, is this: pizza is awesome!

So who can take credit for the invention of this belovedfood? We often associate pizza with Italian cuisine, but do the Italians get the credit? Or did someone else make the very first pizza?

Like many historical questions, there’s not an easy, straightforward answer to the question of who invented pizza. Different historians have different thoughts, and a lot depends upon exactly how you define “pizza.”

If you think of pizza as a flat bread cooked in an oven, then its origins go back to ancient times in the Middle East. The ancient Babylonians, Israelites, and Egyptians all ate unleavened flat breads baked in mud ovens.

If you think a pizza has to have toppings, then its history dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. They both ate baked flat breads that were topped with olive oil and local spices. Today, we call these dishes focaccia breads.

The pizza we’re all familiar with — the kind with tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings — did originate in Italy. Specifically, baker Raffaele Esposito from Naples is often given credit for creating the first such pizza pie. Historians note, however, that flat breads with a variety of toppings had been sold by street vendors and eaten by the poor workers of Naples for many years.

Legend has it that Esposito was called upon to make a pizza for Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita when they visited Naples in 1889. That pizza, which featured fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, is still known as Pizza Margherita today.

Pizza made its way to Spain, France, England, and the United States via Italian immigrants. It didn’t gain popularity until after World War II, though, when returning soldiers sought out the food they had grown to love while fighting overseas.

The first United States pizzeria — G. Lombardi’s — was opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi at 53 1/3 Spring Street in New York City. It is still open today using its original oven, although it has changed location.

Today, pizza is one of the most popular foods in the United States and, indeed, around the world. American-style pizzaironically, has been exported back to Italy, where it has also become a popular food!