A Brief History of Pizza

Jon Mayer
The history of pizza isn’t as straightforward as you may think.
The history of pizza isn’t as straightforward as you may think. / Mitch Diamond/The Image Bank/Getty Images

It’s often said that pizza Margherita was invented in the late1800s to honor Italy’s Queen Margherita. Like so much of pizza’s history, though, that story is more poetically satisfying than factually accurate.

The Margherita is, indeed, an iconic pizza. But as we discuss in the latest episode of Food History, there’s a record of  “a pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil” in an 1853 book, decades before the pie was supposedly named in honor of the Savoyard queen of Italy. That’s just one of many myths mixed into the historical record regarding this icon of global (or is that regional?) cuisine.

It’s a story that involves a great deal of historical research and an ample serving of obsession. That may be appropriate, though; pizza has a way of encouraging enthusiasm, bordering on fixation. Just look at The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana—or “True Neapolitan Pizza Association.” It publishes a set of what it calls International Regulations governing Neapolitan pizza, covering everything from the type of flour you use to your fermentation process to the birthplace of your tomatoes.

Fresh Pizza In New York City
Fresh pizza In New York City. / Robert Nickelsberg/GettyImages

By now, pizza has practically taken over the world. In this episode alone, we cover the following styles and more: New York, Sicilian, St. Louis, Ohio Valley, pizza montanara, and fugazza con queso. In some ways, though, it remains as eminently local as it was when it was first made in Italy ... or maybe Greece (as we discuss in the video).

Watch the full episode for a brief history of pizza, and subscribe to Mental Floss on YouTube for new videos every week.