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The History of Pizza: America’s Favorite Food

Happy National Pizza Day! As if we needed an excuse to enjoy America’s favorite food! Did you know that approximately 3 billion pizzas are sold each year in the US? Yes, billion with a B. Clearly, pizza is a national obsession, but how did our love affair with pizza begin?

Although pizza is thought of as a modern invention, the origins of pizza date back to ancient times. In the 6th century BC, soldiers in the Persian army of King Darius enjoyed flatbreads topped with dates and honey. Ancient Greeks topped their flatbreads with herbs, onion and garlic. In the remains of the Pompeii, archeologists found evidence of garnished flatbreads. World’s first pizzeria?

In 16th century Naples, Italians first started calling their topped flatbreads pizza. It was sold as a street food in poor neighborhoods. However, it was still missing a critical ingredient – tomato sauce. While white pie’s do exist today, it’s more of a specialty pizza. For most, the classic pizza consists of mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce.

Pizza’s weren’t topped with tomato sauce until after tomatoes were introduced from the Americas in the 1500s. Wealthy Europeans were afraid to eat tomatoes as they were part of the nightshade family, considered poisonous at the time. But in poor neighborhoods, they didn’t have the luxury of turning down food and happily topped their pizza’s with tomatoes and tomato sauce. Thus, pizza Napoletana was born, the first pie topped with tomato sauce and cheese.

Over the next hundred years, it became a popular tourist activity for wealthy Italians to visit the more impoverished parts of Naples to eat pizza. Pizza got another boost in popularity when Queen Margherita visited Naples and was prepared a pie topped with roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, with colors to resemble the Italian flag. She enjoyed it so much, she ate 3 entire pizzas and sent the chef a thank you note, thus dubbing the classic pie “Pizza Margherita.”

Pizza came to America with Italian immigrants in the late 1800s. The first pizzeria on record is Lombari’s in New York City, which opened in 1905. Over the next few decades, regional variations started to pop up, like Chicago deep dish pizza in the 1940s. Pizza didn’t become a fixture of American pop culture until the 1950s when ethnic foods started to become popular. Soon after, chain pizza restaurants popped up all over the nation, including Pizza Hut in the 1950s. Pizza became a regular weeknight meal when the first frozen pizza was introduced in 1957, quickly becoming the most popular frozen food.

In recent decades, pizza has gotten gourmet makeover, starting with Wolfgang Puck’s California Pizza Kitchen in the 1980s. It was first to place to create specialty gourmet pizzas, like the BBQ chicken pizza. Today, restaurants all over the nation are topping their pies with artisan ingredients in unique combinations. Recently I enjoyed a pie with sopressata ham, fresh mozzarella cheese, and dates, drizzled with local spicy honey. It harkened back to those first ancient pizza’s enjoyed by the Persians!

What are your favorite pizza toppings? Leave a comment below and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, Plated, to unlock a $2 coupon to use on your next Luvo purchase.


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