Pizza is a popular food, and for good reason. Who can resist the warm crust, the rich sauce and the gooey cheese — not to mention, the endless choice of toppings! You can always have a pizza customized to your taste, which only adds to its popularity.
It is estimated that about 5 billion pizzas are sold yearly worldwide, and 3 billion of those are sold in the U.S. alone. Who came up with the idea of round flat bread with toppings? And how did pizza become so popular? You may be surprised once you learn pizza’s history. Pizza has come a long way and continues to evolve.
How Did Pizza Get Its Name?
The origin of the word “pizza” is not clear, but there are a few theories. One is that pizza comes from an Old Italian word that means “a point” or from the Greek word “pitta.” The word may have also originated from the Italian word “pizziare,” which means “to pinch or pluck.”
In 997 A.D., the word “pizza” was first recognized in Gaeta, Italy and began to spread to other parts of the country.
No matter how it got its name, the word today is well-known all over the world as each country has its own version of the pizza pie.
Ancient History of Pizza
It is widely believed that Italians were the inventors of pizza, but this is not true. The origin of pizza dates back to ancient times, way back to the Persians, Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. Some original pizzas were most likely made from flat bread, known to Romans as focaccia — flat bread crust very similar to pizza crust today — and topped with olive oil, herbs and vegetables. The following timeline traces the ancient origins of pizza:
- 6th Century B.C.: Persian soldiers who were always on the move used their shields to cook a type of flat bread and topped it with dates and cheeses — a very crude version of the pizza we enjoy today.
- 3rd Century B.C.: A Roman statesman, Cato the Elder, wrote about a flat, round bread baked on stones garnished with honey, olive oil and herbs. This description is a little closer to the pizzas enjoyed today.
- 1st Century A.D.: One of the earliest cookbooks written by Marcus Gavius Apicius, a rich roman merchant, included a recipe for a hollowed-out loaf of bread topped with cheese, oil, peppers and garlic.
This is closer still to the pizza of today, but pizza as we know it didn’t begin to take shape until another key ingredient was introduced to the recipe.
History of Pizzas with Tomato Sauce: The Special Ingredient
Tomatoes were brought to Naples in the 16th century, bringing pizza one step closer to what we enjoy today:
- 1522: Tomatoes were introduced to the people of Naples from the New World. While at first, people thought these new fruits were poisonous, the poor citizens in the area begin using tomatoes in their bread dough, which lead to a pizza that closely resembled what millions of people enjoy today. The crude pizza was mainly eaten by the poorer peoples of the area because they needed a food that was inexpensive to make and easy to eat.
- 17th Century: Pizza was popular among visitors to Naples who travel to the poorer sections to find a dish known as pizzaioli.
- Late 1800s: The pizza of Naples had cheese, tomato sauce and spices as toppings. The story goes that a baker living in Naples, Raffaele Esposito, made his pizza this way. Espositio and his wife made pizza topped with mozzarella cheese, pork fat, olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and basil. His version became so well-liked that he made pizzas for King Umberto and Queen Margherita of Italy in the late 1800s. The queen enjoyed pizza topped with basil, plum tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, which is known today as pizza Margherita.
- 19th Century: During the latter part of this century, pizza was sold on the streets of Naples. Pizza was eaten for any meal, even breakfast. Booths were set up that soon become pizzerias where customers could sit, eat, drink and socialize. These early pizzerias began offering a variety of toppings.
Even though this version of pizza was taking off in Naples at this time, these delicious pies would not become popular in the France, Spain, England and the U.S. until World War II.
History of Pizza in the U.S.
Early on, pizzas were called tomato pies when the first pizzeria opened in New York City. These pies were put together a little differently than the pizza today. The cheese was put on the crust first, followed by the toppings and lastly the sauce. You can still find these traditional tomato pies in Italian bakeries in New York. It would be a few decades before America would experience the pizza explosion we know today.
- 1905: Gennaro Lombardi obtained a license to sell pizza in New York and opened the first pizzeria. His pizzeria remained open until 1984, when it was forced to close for economic reasons.
- 1910: The second pizzeria was opened in America — Joe’s Tomato Pies.
- 1912: A 17-year-old worker from Joe’s opened his own pizzeria known as Papa’s Tomato Pies.
- 1920s: Family-style pizzerias began to pop up in the northeastern states of the U.S. Families could buy pizza made with flat crust, tomato sauce and a choice of toppings, including mozzarella cheese, sausage, mushrooms, anchovies and garlic.
- World War II: During the war, many soldiers were stationed in Italy where pizza was a staple food, and these soldiers came back hungry for these tasty pies. However, it wouldn’t be until the 1950s that Americans really started craving pizzas.
Celebrities helped launch pizza to stardom, too. Some of the most famous Italian celebrities of the 1950s ate pizza, like Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio and Jimmy Durante. And when Dean Martin sang, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore,” it made pizza even more popular. “Amore” means love in Italian, and people did love Dean and their pizza.
The History of Chicago-Style, Deep Dish Pizza
The originator of Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza is a topic that is heavily debated, so here is our story (and what we obviously think is the original).
Mama Giordano was famous for her cooking back home in Italy in a small town near Torino. Her most popular recipe was an “Italian Easter Pie.” This doubled-crusted pizza was stuffed with cheese and became a traditional recipe for the Giordano family and a legend in her hometown.
In 1974, the Giordano brothers, Efren and Joseph, introduced their mother’s famous recipe to the south side of Chicago. People loved it, and the first Giordano’s was born.
Over four decades later, Giordano’s deep dish pizza is still considered one of Chicago’s best stuffed pizzas. Giordano’s has continued to expand, and this famous pizza is now available in other states: Indiana, Minnesota and Florida.
Pizza Anytime, Anywhere
Pizza places began popping up all over the U.S. between 1945 and 1960. Part of pizza’s popularity is that it’s a food you can share as a group. Families or friends could go out together and share a pizza. With the food’s growing popularity, it’s only natural the pizza industry evolved and offered options in pizza types and toppings to make it easier to enjoy.
- 1948: Frank A. Fiorello created the first commercial pizza mix you can make at home. Roman Pizza Mix was made in Worcester, Massachusetts.
- 1950s: Hungry families could now buy frozen pizzas in many grocery stores across the U.S., and frozen pizza quickly became one of the most popular frozen foods. While there seems to be some confusion on what company first offered the frozen pizza, it is believed that Celentano Brothers were actually the first in the 1950s, and other brands, like Totino’s and Tombstone, started selling frozen pizza in the 1960s.
- 1958: The first Pizza Hut opened its doors, followed by Little Caesars in 1959 and Domino’s in 1960. The opening of these pizzerias led to the option of having a pizza with your choice of topping delivered hot and ready-to-eat right to your door.
The Pizza Comes to You
Pizza delivery made pizza more convenient and more popular. Families could order pizza instead of cooking and still enjoy a hot dinner delivered right to their door. While it’s not set in stone, it is believed that Domino’s was the first pizzeria to offer this service.
- 1961: Domino’s Pizza began offering pizza delivery and started a new trend. Domino’s remains the U.S. leader in pizza delivery.
- Today: About 83 percent of pizza chains offer free delivery within certain limits from where the restaurant is located. Delivery is a big part of the pizza business. Over one billion pizzas are delivered each year.
Ordering pizza has gotten easier over the years as well. You don’t have to call in your order today — you can now order pizza online or by text. And there are at least 70,000 pizza places in the U.S., making it available to everyone.
Pizza Around the World
Pizza toppings have come a long way from the meager beginnings of dates and cheese. Many people still stick with tradition. But there are so many more choices in toppings, which means makes it easier for people to create their perfect pie.
The toppings offered today range from creative to daring. You can choose some unusual foods, like sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, duck, squid, grapes and more. These toppings are not available at all pizza chains, but you can find recipes to make some unique pizzas if you feeling adventurous.
One pizza has toppings to rival the all-American cheeseburger: ground beef, pickles, onions, cheese, mayo, mustard or ketchup.
You can even eat pizza for breakfast with a crust topped with eggs, cheese and a sausage gravy sauce.
Today, it seems the toppings are endless, and you can create almost any pizza you imagine.
Pizza has spread to countries all over the world, each with its own version that vary from the American toppings:
- Brazilians put green peas on their pies.
- Russians top theirs with fish — sardines, mackerel, tuna, salmon and other fish.
- Coconut is a common topping in Costa Rica.
- Curry seasoning is added to pizza in Pakistan.
- The Japanese like squid and eel on their pies.
- Double toppings (onions, meat and cheese) are the choice of people in the Netherlands.
- Australians enjoy a pizza with shrimp and barbecue sauce.
- Indians like to spice it up with pickled ginger and mutton.
- The French enjoy onion, bacon and fresh cream on their pizzas.
Pepperoni is still a favorite with people in the United States, and about 252 million pounds of it is eaten yearly. Other favorites in the U.S. include mushrooms, sausage, onions, green peppers and of course, extra cheese!
Pizza Popularity Continues
Over 94 percent of people in the U.S. like eating pizza. It’s easy to get, and it’s affordable. It also includes ingredients from the four basic food groups: breads, vegetables, dairy and protein.
Pizza chains today offer much more than just pizza. Many offer salads, sandwiches, beverages and desserts, and some even offer catering services. This makes it convenient to order pizzas and other menu items for parties or just order dinner for the family after a busy week. Saturday nights are often the busiest for pizza orders in the U.S.
Pizza is and will probably always be one of the most popular foods. There are so many different varieties and choice of toppings that everyone can always get just what they want.
Pizza franchises are popular, and pizza sales are a $32 billion industry. Some pizzerias stay true to their Italian roots, like Giordano’s, a consistently growing pizza franchise that offers traditional Italian pizza recipes along with other fine Italian dishes.
Giordano’s Pizza History
Giordano’s offers catering and other options for you, so you can enjoy their mother’s pizza recipe just like those in her hometown. Mama Giordano’s stuffed pizza is made up of tender flaky crust and layers of mouth-watering flavors, setting it apart from other types of pizza.
You can also ask about catering services. Giordano’s has a delicious Italian menu to satisfy everyone in your group or party. You can choose from starters, salads or sandwich trays, or go for the deep dish stuffed pizza that Giordano’s is famous for.