Roughly 30 billion pizzas are consumed around the world every year. It’s shocking, but not surprising, given the dish’s insane popularity and nearly universal reach, but most people don’t know anything about it – So When Was it First-Called Pizza?
Pizza gets its name from an Italian word referring to the shaping of the dough. Today’s dish that we know as Pizza was developed in Naples in the 16th century. However, it’s believed that it originated in 997 AD in Italy, just north of Naples.
Here’s what you need to know about the linguistic origins and when, and who names Pizza? let’s find out!
Why is Pizza called Pizza?
There’s a modern theory that Pizza got its name from the mathematical formula for its volume.
If you represent the radius of the pie as “z” and the depth as “a,” you can find the volume of the pie by solving the equation, “π x z^2 x a.” Expanded and written phonetically, this reads as “pi x (z x z) x a,” or Pizza.
While this is an exciting and somewhat amusing interpretation of the meaning of Pizza’s name, there’s little if any historical evidence to support the idea. Likely, this is simply a happy coincidence.
More realistically, historians typically believe that the etymological development of “pizza” came from one of three primary sources.
The most popular linguistic theory is that “pizza” started as an Italian word, “pinza,” which comes from the Latin pinsere, meaning “to pound” or “to stamp.”
The name probably referenced the process of kneading out and shaping the dough to create the signature flat-dough dish. However, its change may be attributed to misinterpretation by foreigners or general linguistic slip (the tendency for words to change) over time.
“Pizza” may also come from the Greek “pitta,” meaning “pie,” and have originated as a plainer flatbread that moved into Italy with the Roman Empire. Though very different from the Pizza we know today, the flatbread was similar in consistency and topped with, among other things, olives, olive oils, and spices.
It may also come from Langobardic’s “bizzo,” meaning “bite.” This language (now extinct) was West Germanic in origin. The Lombards who spoke it occupied the land that would become Italy in the sixth century.
The Romans and their Latin quickly took them over, so it’s uncertain whether the word could have survived as it did.
Who named Pizza?
Strangely, we don’t know the exact person we can credit with the invention of Pizza. There are, however, some excellent legends surrounding the name.
Though it’s difficult to verify, the legend most people believe is that a baker named Raffaele Esposito received the task of creating a delightful meal for the monarchs of Italy in the 1500s, King Umberto and Queen Margherita.
Esposito took a local peasant food – a flat dough with some light toppings – and elevated it with a patriotic topping scheme that reflected the flag’s colors: red tomato sauce, white cheese, and green basil. Queen Margherita liked it so much that the dish was named after her, pizza Margherita.
Modern Naples takes this story very seriously, with plaques commemorating Esposito’s supposed invention and a heavily based city identity. But unfortunately, there’s no surviving paperwork from the era documenting the royal visit or this particular baker’s contribution.
Word of mouth is, in this case, the most substantial evidence we have of the tale’s truth.
When did Pizza get its name?
There is the belief that Pizza, both the word and the dish, originated in Naples, Italy, around the 16th century. However, recent evidence shows us that the name originates slightly further north.
A contract between the Bishop of Gaeta and the Son of Duke Marino the Second holds the first recorded use of the word Pizza in 997 AD in Gaeta, Italy. This contract stated that twelve pizzas must be delivered on Christmas Day and again on Easter Sunday so the son could use the bishop’s mill.
The dish, and the name, moved quickly through the central and southern parts of the country. Interestingly, this is when we start getting recipes for Pizza; the first we know of is from 1524 in a document known as the Manoscritto Lucano, followed in 1570 by five recipes from Bartolomeo Scappi.
Scappi’s recipes are the first to link Pizza with Naples, claiming the name itself originated in the city. He’s right in saying that Pizza was a large part of the city’s identity at the time.
It was peasant food available on nearly every street corner, eaten by the lower-classed Lazzaroni between larger weekend meals.
The first time we see the word “pizza” recorded in a dictionary is in a 1598 Italian-English dictionary, defined as “a small cake or wafer.” Indeed, Pizza at the time could often be fluffier cake-like dough topped minorly with such things as rosewater or herbs.
What are other names for Pizza?
There are no other common core names for the dish we know today as Pizza. There are, however, variations on the name tied to geographic and cultural locations.
There’s some debate about whether it should be called Pizza, pizza pie, or simply pie. The answer, it seems, depends on where you come from.
For instance, in Italy, Pizza is just Pizza, while in the United States, you’ll often hear it called pizza pie if you live in New Your City.
If you live on the West Coast and are young, you might call it ‘za.’
You’ll also be hard-pressed to find what you’re looking for if you order “pizza” from a restaurant. There are many different kinds of Pizza; the best form is hotly debated and can be a point of contention across cultures.
Neapolitan Pizza is traditional Italian because it is made in Naples and topped with San Marzano tomato sauce and sliced mozzarella cheese.
Sicilian Pizza is Italian Pizza from the city of Sicily. It’s got a thick, spongey crust and is topped with various herbs, tomato sauce, and grated hard cheese. This Pizza usually is square or rectangular.
New York-style Pizza is generally large, with a thin, crispy crust, tomato sauce, and shredded mozzarella cheese.
Chicago-style Pizza consists of a deep crust with high walls filled with tomato sauce layered on top of shredded mozzarella cheese.
No matter where it came from and how it got its name, Pizza, as we know and love it today, has had a fairly significant impact on food history worldwide.
From early Greeks making flatbreads to Gaetans being paid in Pizza, Neapolitans claiming it as a cultural symbol, to being brought to the United States by Italian immigrants. Pizza has become one of the most well-known and highly enjoyed dishes in the modern world and a word that is universally known.
You could say it’s like eating a slice of history.