The History of Pizza


Few words can so quickly induce salivation as this simple, five letter word. And pizza itself is such a simple dish. A crust slathered with sauce and topped with melted cheese becomes a stage upon which toppings dance. Basil, pepperoni, ham, red pepper, pineapple, green chile, whatever your heart desires.

But how did such a dish come about? Who is the genius who we have to thank for this culinary marvel? To answer that, we have to turn the clock way back.

The year is 1830. You are a poor villager in the town of Naples, Italy. You lead a very basic lifestyle, and are normally content. However, this year has been hard on you and your family. Your crops did not grow as well as you expected, and now your family is hungry. You need another source of food, but don’t know where to find it. However, you have heard that a certain plant, the ‘tomato’ is edible. Ever since it was brought over from the Americas, nobody has eaten it because it is poisonous. It is, after all, related to nightshade, a deadly plant if ever there was one. (Turns out it’s because the acid in the tomatoes leeches the lead out of the pewter plates and bowls it’s put in). But you are getting desperate, and so, you make a sauce from these tomatoes and spread it on your flatbread. The result is more than edible. It is quite delicious. Soon, your neighbors hear of your innovation and duplicate your success. Eventually, people outside of Naples come searching for this colloquial delight.

Though people had been eating flatbread for centuries, the villagers of Naples were the first to add tomato. However, cheese wasn’t added until around the 1880s. This addition is credited to one Raffaele Esposito. He wanted to create a pizza in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy. To do so, he made a pizza with the colors of the Italian flag—red tomatoes, green basil leaves, and white mozzarella cheese. Thus, the pizza margherita was born.

And once the door was open, the world would never be the same again. People took this basic design and added to it in a million different ways, mostly with custom toppings. Around the world, different countries prefer different toppings on their pizzas. For example, in Costa Rica, many people order pizza with coconut. Japanese pizzas can come with squid, and German pizzas might have sunny side up eggs. My home state of New Mexico is famous for its green chile pepperoni pizza.

There are also other varieties of pizza than the standard round, thin-crust pizza. Chicago has become famous for its ‘deep-dish’ pizzas which are much thicker and are often stuffed with layers of cheese, meat, and sauce. Square pizzas have also become popular. The calzone is basically a folded thin-crust pizza. The cheese, sauce, and toppings are placed on top of a layer of dough, then covered with another layer and baked. 

Not only is pizza delicious, it is also nutritious. It is at least four food groups in one, depending on the toppings you choose. Compared to other takeout foods, pizza can be considerably more healthy. Studies have shown that eating pizza once a week can even help lower your risk of cancer. This is thought to be because of the large amounts of lycopene which naturally occurs in tomatoes. If you want to be extra-healthy, you can get whole wheat pizzas and other specially made pies. However, a standard pizza tends to be fairly high in carbohydrates, so it helps to balance your meal by topping your pizza with meat such as pepperoni, ham, or Canadian bacon.

Whether you call out for delivery, drive to a pizzeria to buy fresh pizza, fill your freezer with take-and-bake pizza, or make it yourself, getting delicious, piping hot pizza is incredibly easy. All in all, pizza is a wonderful food. It is simple, filling, and amazingly adaptable.  Its popularity shows how it has become an international sensation. So why don’t you pull up a chair, grab a cold drink, and order some right now?

This was adapted from a speech I gave in high school for Academic Decathlon. AcaDec is a competition involving 10 different events – science, math, history, literature, economics, art, music, essay, interview, and speech. I won second place at the national competition my senior year with this speech.

I’ve brushed it up a little here, but I’ve kept most of it the same. Looking back at this was pretty interesting; I could definitely see the good ole’ 5-paragraph system they taught in school. I’d probably organize this quite differently if I were to give the speech now, but I decided to keep it mostly the same for this post.

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