Pizza is a flatbread generally topped with tomato sauce and cheese and baked in an oven. It is commonly topped with a selection of meats, vegetables and condiments. The term was first recorded in the 10th century, in a Latin manuscript from Gaeta in Central Italy. The modern pizza was invented in Naples, Italy, and the dish and its variants have since become popular in many areas of the world.
In 2009, upon Italy‘s request, Neapolitan pizza was safeguarded in the European Union as a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed dish. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the True Neapolitan Pizza Association) is a non-profit organization founded in 1984 with headquarters in Naples. It promotes and protects the “true Neapolitan pizza”.
Pizza is sold fresh or frozen, either whole or in portions, and is a common fast food item in Europe and North America. Various types of ovens are used to cook them and many varieties exist. Several similar dishes are prepared from ingredients commonly used in pizza preparation, such as calzone and stromboli.
The origin of the word pizza (Italian: [ˈpittsa]) is uncertain. The term “pizza” first appeared in a Latin text from the southern Italy town of Gaeta in 997 AD, which states that a tenant of certain property is to give the bishop of Gaeta duodecim pizze (“twelve pizzas”) every Christmas Day, and another twelve every Easter Sunday“.
Suggested etymologies include:
- The Ancient Greek word πικτή (pikte), “fermented pastry”, which in Latin became “picta”, and Late Latin pitta > pizza. Compare Greek pita bread and the Apulia and Calabrian pitta.
- The Ancient Greek word πίσσα (pissa, Attic πίττα, pitta), “pitch”, or pḗtea, “bran” (pētítēs, “bran bread”).
- The Italian word pizzicare meaning “to pluck”, which refers to pizza being plucked quickly from the oven (pizzicare was derived from an older Italian word pizzo meaning “point”).
- The Lombardic word bizzo or pizzo meaning “mouthful” (related to the English words “bit” and “bite”), which was brought to Italy in the middle of the 6th century AD by the invading Lombards.
Modern pizza evolved from similar flatbread dishes in Naples, Italy in the 18th or early 19th century. Prior to that time, flatbread was often topped with ingredients such as garlic, salt, lard, cheese, and basil. It is uncertain when tomatoes were first added and there are many conflicting claims. Until about 1830, pizza was sold from open-air stands and out of pizza bakeries, and pizzerias keep this old tradition alive today.
A popular contemporary legend holds that the archetypal pizza, pizza Margherita, was invented in 1889, when the Royal Palace of Capodimonte commissioned the Neapolitan pizzaiolo (pizza maker) Raffaele Esposito to create a pizza in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita. Of the three different pizzas he created, the Queen strongly preferred a pizza swathed in the colors of the Italian flag: red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella). Supposedly, this kind of pizza was then named after the Queen as “Pizza Margherita”, although recent research casts doubt on this legend.
Pizza was brought to the United States with Italian immigrants in the late nineteenth century; and first appeared in areas where Italian immigrants concentrated. The country’s first pizzeria, Lombardi’s, opened in 1905. Following World War II, veterans returning from the Italian Campaign after being introduced to Italy’s native cuisine proved a ready market for pizza in particular. Since then pizza consumption has exploded in the U.S. pizza chains such as Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s, pizzas from take and bake pizzerias and chilled and frozen from supermarkets, make pizza readily available nationwide. It is so ubiquitous, thirteen percent of the U.S. population consumes pizza on any given day.
Pizza is prepared fresh, frozen, and as portion-size slices or pieces. Methods have been developed to overcome challenges such as preventing the sauce from combining with the dough and producing a crust that can be frozen and reheated without becoming rigid. There are frozen pizzas with raw ingredients and self-rising crusts.
Another form of uncooked pizza is available from take and bake pizzerias. This pizza is assembled in the store, then sold to customers to bake in their own ovens. Some grocery stores sell fresh dough along with sauce and basic ingredients, to complete at home before baking in an oven.
In restaurants, pizza can be baked in an oven with stone bricks above the heat source, an electric deck oven, a conveyor belt oven or, in the case of more expensive restaurants, a wood- or coal-fired brick oven. On deck ovens, pizza can be slid into the oven on a long paddle, called a peel, and baked directly on the hot bricks or baked on a screen (a round metal grate, typically aluminum). Prior to use, a peel may be sprinkled with cornmeal to allow pizza to easily slide onto and off of it. When made at home, it can be baked on a pizza stone in a regular oven to reproduce the effect of a brick oven. Another option is grilled pizza, in which the crust is baked directly on a barbecue grill. Greek pizza, like Chicago-style pizza, is baked in a pan rather than directly on the bricks of the pizza oven.
When it comes to preparation, the dough and ingredients can be combined on any kind of table. With mass production of pizzas the process can be completely automated. Most restaurants still use standard and purpose built pizza preparation tables. Pizzerias nowadays can even opt for hi tech pizza preparation tables that combine mass production elements with traditional techniques.
The bottom of the pizza, called the “crust”, may vary widely according to style—thin as in a typical hand-tossed Neapolitan pizza, or thick as in a deep-dish Chicago-style. It is traditionally plain, but may also be seasoned with garlic or herbs, or stuffed with cheese. The outer edge of the pizza is sometimes referred to as the cornicione. Often pizza dough contains sugar, both to help its yeast rise and enhance browning of the crust.
Less expensive processed cheeses have been developed for mass-market pizzas to produce desirable qualities like browning, melting, stretchiness, consistent fat and moisture content, and stable shelflife. This quest to create the ideal and economical pizza cheese has involved many studies and experiments analyzing the impact of vegetable oil, manufacturing and culture processes, denatured whey proteins and other changes in manufacture. In 1997 it was estimated that annual production of pizza cheese was 2 billion pounds (910 million kilograms) in the U.S. and 200 million pounds (91 million kilograms) in Europe.
Authentic Neapolitan pizza (pizza napoletana) is typically made with San Marzano tomatoes, grown on the volcanic plains south of Mount Vesuvius, and mozzarella di bufala Campana, made with milk from water buffalo raised in the marshlands of Campania and Lazio. This mozzarella is protected with its own European protected designation of origin. Other traditional pizzas include pizza alla marinara, which is topped with marinara sauce and is allegedly the most ancient tomato-topped pizza, pizza capricciosa, which is prepared with mozzarella cheese, baked ham, mushroom, artichoke and tomato, and pizza pugliese, prepared with tomato, mozzarella and onions.
A popular variant of pizza in Italy is Sicilian pizza (locally called sfincione or sfinciuni), a thick-crust or deep-dish pizza originating during the 17th century in Sicily: it is essentially a focaccia that is typically topped with tomato sauce and other ingredients. Until the 1860s, sfincione was the type of pizza usually consumed in Sicily, especially in the Western portion of the island. Other variations of pizzas are also found in other regions of Italy, for example pizza al padellino or pizza al tegamino, a small-sized, thick-crust and deep-dish pizza typically served in Turin, Piedmont.
Common toppings for pizza in the United States include ground beef, mushrooms, onions, pepperoni, pineapple, garlic, chicken and sausage.
Distinct regional types developed in the twentieth century, including California, Chicago, Greek, and New York styles. The first pizzeria in the U.S. was opened in New York’s Little Italy in 1905 and since then regions throughout the U.S. offer variations, including deep-dish, stuffed, pockets, turnovers, rolled and pizza-on-a-stick, each with seemingly limitless combinations of sauce and toppings.
The world’s largest pizza was at the Norwood Pick ‘n Pay hypermarket in Johannesburg, South Africa. According to the Guinness Book of Records the pizza was 37.4 meters (122 feet 8 inches) in diameter and was made using 500 kg (1,100 lb) of flour, 800 kg (1,800 lb) of cheese and 900 kg (2,000 lb) of tomato puree. This was accomplished on December 8, 1990.
The world’s most expensive pizza listed by Guinness World Records is a commercially available thin-crust pizza at Maze restaurant in London, United Kingdom, which costs GB£100. The pizza is wood fire-baked, and is topped with onion puree, white truffle paste, fontina cheese, baby mozzarella, pancetta, cep mushrooms, freshly picked wild mizuna lettuce, and fresh shavings of a rare Italian white truffle.
There are several instances of more expensive pizzas, such as the GB£4,200 “Pizza Royale 007” at Haggis restaurant in Glasgow, Scotland, which has caviar, lobster and is topped with 24-carat gold dust, and the US$1,000 caviar pizza made by Nino’s Bellissima pizzeria in New York City, New York. However, these are not officially recognized by Guinness World Records. Additionally, a pizza was made by the restaurateur Domenico Crolla that included toppings such as sunblush-tomato sauce, Scottish smoked salmon, medallions of venison, edible gold, lobster marinated in cognac, and champagne-soaked caviar. The pizza was auctioned for charity in 2007, raising GB£2,150.
Some mass-produced pizzas by fast food chains have been criticized as having an unhealthy balance of ingredients. Pizza can be high in salt, fat and food energy. The USDA reports an average sodium content of 5,101 mg per 14 in (36 cm) pizza in fast food chains. There are concerns about negative health effects. Food chains have come under criticism at various times for the high salt content of some of their meals.
Frequent pizza eaters in Italy have been found to have a relatively low incidence of cardiovascular disease and digestive tract cancers relative to infrequent pizza eaters, although the nature of the correlation between pizza and such perceived benefits is unclear. Pizza consumption in Italy might only indicate adherence to traditional Mediterranean dietary patterns, which have been shown to have various health benefits.
Some attribute the apparent health benefits of pizza to the lycopene content in pizza sauce, which research indicates likely plays a role in protecting against cardiovascular disease and various cancers.
National Pizza Month
National Pizza Month is an annual observance that occurs for the month of October in the United States and some areas of Canada. This observance began in October 1984, and was created by Gerry Durnell, the publisher of Pizza Today magazine. During this time, some people observe National Pizza Month by consuming various types of pizzas or pizza slices, or going to various pizzerias.
- Calzone and stromboli are similar dishes (a calzone is traditionally half-moon-shaped, while a stromboli is tube-shaped) that are often made of pizza dough rolled or folded around a filling.
- “Farinata” or “cecina”. A Ligurian (farinata) and Tuscan (cecina) regional dish made from chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil. Also called socca in the Provence region of France. Often baked in a brick oven, and typically weighed and sold by the slice.
- The Alsatian Flammekueche German: Flammkuchen. French: Tarte flambée is a thin disc of dough covered in crème fraîche, onions, and bacon.
- Garlic fingers is an Atlantic Canadian dish, similar to a pizza in shape and size, and made with similar dough. It is garnished with melted butter, garlic, cheese, and sometimes bacon.
- The Anatolian Lahmacun (Arabic: laḥm bi’ajīn; Armenian: lahmajoun; also Armenian pizza or Turkish pizza) is a meat-topped dough round. The bread is very thin; the layer of meat often includes chopped vegetables.
- The Levantine Manakish (Arabic: ma’ujnāt) and Sfiha (Arabic: laḥm bi’ajīn; also Arab pizza) are dishes similar to pizza.
- The Macedonian Pastrmajlija is a bread pie made from dough and meat. It is usually oval-shaped with chopped meat on top of it.
- The Provençal Pissaladière is similar to an Italian pizza, with a slightly thicker crust and a topping of cooked onions, anchovies, and olives.
- Pizza bagel is a bagel with toppings similar to that of traditional pizzas.
- Pizza bread is a type of sandwich that is often served open-faced which consists of bread, pizza or tomato sauce, cheese and various toppings. Homemade versions may be prepared.
- Pizza sticks may be prepared with pizza dough and pizza ingredients, in which the dough is shaped into stick forms, sauce and toppings are added, and it is then baked. Bread dough may also be used in their preparation, and some versions are fried.
- Pizza Rolls are a frozen snack variation of traditional pizza that can include various toppings. Homemade versions may be prepared as well.
- Okonomiyaki, a Japanese dish cooked on a hotplate, is often referred to as “Japanese pizza”.
- “Zanzibar pizza” is a street food served in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania. It uses a dough much thinner than pizza dough, almost like phyllo dough, filled with minced beef, onions, and an egg, similar to Moroccan bestila.