A Brief History
On May 19, 2017, the United States celebrates perhaps its most important holiday, National Pizza Party Day. Pizza has become such an integral part of American culture, that we choose to honor this day with interesting facts about our favorite food.
Pizza of course is of Italian origin, appearing first in records in the 10th Century. But wait! Tomatoes did not make it to Europe until after 1492 when Columbus first sailed to the New World, so whatever excuse for pizza Italy may have had, it was not what we would recognize as our favorite pie. Slapping herbs, cheese, olive oil, and vegetables and/or meat on flat bread may go back even further, back in the days of Ancient Greece and Ancient Persia, a clue as to how vital pizza really is to human well-being.
Modern pizza appeared in Naples, Italy around the late 1700’s, and was commonly sold “to go” from stands and bakeries. We are not sure when tomato sauce became a key ingredient, but it may have been around this time. When large numbers of Italians immigrated to the United States in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, they brought pizza with them. The first known pizzeria in the United States is Lombardi’s, of Manhattan, New York City (opened in either 1895 or 1905, depending on source). This hallowed place is still baking pizza pies, but in a location a block away from the original spot.
Oddly enough, National Pizza Month is in October. Personally, I thought every month was National Pizza Month!
There are over 61,000 pizzerias in the US, and Americans are eating around 350 slices of pizza every second (46 slices per person per year). The US is by far the biggest consumer of pizza, with annual sales of 3 billion pizzas (over $30 billion worth) compared to a world-wide total of 5 billion pizzas per year. This does not even count the billion frozen pizzas also sold in the US annually. In fact, 93% of Americans eat at least one slice of pizza each month. About one out of every six restaurants in the US is a pizza parlor.
How about thin crust versus thick crust? New York is the thin crust, floppy pizza capital (9000 pizzerias in the Big Apple alone out of 70,000 in the entire US), while Chicago is the land of thick crust pizza. Which do you prefer? Americans prefer thin crust, with 61% of the public agreeing with New Yorkers.
Pizza can be made in an infinite number of varieties and toppings, from just dough brushed with olive oil and garlic to stuffed crust monsters with topping after topping piled inches thick. Either way, if you choose to use some sort of imitation cheese product, you are a heretic and should be banished to some far away land, never to see pizza again. Pepperoni is the most common topping in the US, with a staggering 252 million pounds of the stuff consumed on pizza each year, about 36% of all US pizza. For no known reason, women are twice as likely to order a vegetarian topped pizza than men.
Pizza Hut has the most pizza restaurants in the world, boasting 12,000 locations, while Dominos delivers more pizza than any other chain. Pizza still trails hamburgers as the most prolific food in food service, and pizza is #2 to chicken in food taken out. Of course, you can get hamburger/cheeseburger pizza or chicken pizza, and really knock the statistics for a loop.
Hands down, the most terrible topping for pizza is Anchovies. (Because I said so.) Question for students (and subscribers): Do you agree? What are your favorite and least favorite pizza toppings? Please share your favorites with us, especially if you have any tips on interesting ingredients or cooking techniques in the comments section below this article. Mangia!
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For more information, please see…
Barrett, Liz. Pizza, A Slice of American History. Voyageur Press, 2014.