Photo by redpeyton

Photo by redpeyton

Pizza is a food so beloved in the U.S. it seems like it’s been around forever, but there are some immediate clues that pizza as we know it today is a relatively new invention.

The most notable is that the tomato is indigenous to South America, and didn’t make it to Italy until the mid-sixteenth century.

But take away the now seemingly-ubiquitous red sauce (and cheese), and you have a dish whose history reaches far back in time.


The precursor to pizza was, simply, seasoned flatbreads.

Popular in several Mediterranean cultures, stone-baked flatbreads made of flour and water were a humble, sustaining meal. In Greece, a flatbread seasoned with oil and herbs, similar to focaccia, was a favorite.

It wasn’t until the 1700s that pizza as we know it today started to take shape.

In Naples, busy workers were in need of a food they could eat on-the-go, in between shifts.

Flatbread provided an affordable vessel for simple toppings like cheese, tomatoes (sounding familiar?), herbs, and other ingredients. Basically, the pizza in Italy came about the same way as the breakfast sandwich did in London. It was an inexpensive, easy-to-eat meal for workers, but it turns out that its total was worth more than the sum of its parts.

Pizza as we know it began to further take shape when the working-class citizens of Naples started consuming tomatoes in the 18th century (likely driven by hunger to try new sources of food). Though they had been brought to Italy in the 1500s, tomatoes were previously thought to be poisonous.

As pizza became more and more popular, permanent pizza shops took the place of street vendors, and even the members of the ruling class became fans.

Italian traditions

The pizza most people probably think of when they think of Italy is the Margherita.

The Margherita pizza was allegedly created by Rafaele Esposito, who created a red, white, and green pie mimicking the colors of the Italian flag for Queen Margherita in 1889.

The Queen loved it, and so others were compelled to try the combination, helping to make pizza even more popular. As pizza became more widespread, different regions customized their pies to suit the different produce and ingredients available in their communities.

Other Italian pizzas

While Neapolitan pizza, with its soft, charred crust may be the original, Roman pizza is quite popular too.

Roman pizza has oil added to the crust, which makes it denser and crispier. Roman pizza is usually rectangular and sold by the square slice, sometimes with toppings like crushed tomatoes, artichoke, and oregano, or served as pizza bianca, a white pizza drizzled with olive oil after it’s cooked.

American pizza dough more closely resembles that of Rome, due to oil in the crust.

American pizza

Though pizza was first introduced to the US in the early 1900s, it gained popularity after WWII soldiers returning home from Italy brought with them their fondness for the dish. Since then, American pizza has flourished, with different regions developing their own styles.

New York style pizza
Probably the most iconic pizza in America, New York-style pizza features a thin, crispy yet chewy crust that can be folded while it’s eaten, and a basic topping of simple tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.

Chicago-style deep dish
Almost like a pizza casserole, hearty Chicago deep dish features a thick, buttery crust topped with mozzarella cheese on the bottom, followed by a chunky tomato sauce, various meats and veggies, and even more cheese on top.

New Haven-style Apizza
Oblong New Haven apizza has a thin, almost cracker-y crust that’s cooked in a hot coal oven. The crust usually features quite a bit of char, said to contrast the sweetness of the sauce and any toppings.

The most notable style of apizza is the white clam pie, invented at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. This pizza features littleneck clams, garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated cheese.

St. Louis-style pizza
With an unleavened, crisp cracker crust, Saint Louis-style pizza is a unique treat. It’s usually topped with a three-cheese blend of provolone, swiss, and white cheddar that’s known as Provel, and generally will be cut in a grid rather than in triangular slices.

Bar pizza
Served on a very thin, cracker-like crust, bar pizza is simply topped with cheese and mozzarella, and sometimes canned mushrooms, pepperoni, and other humble pizza ingredients. The style is popular in the Midwest.

Greek Pizza
Popular in New England, Greek pizza is a pan pizza with a thick crust enriched with oil and a smooth, round crust.

Greek pizza is usually topped with a thick, oregano-heavy tomato sauce and a mixture of provolone cheese and mozzarella.

Sicilian-style pizza
With a hearty, thick crust, Sicilian pies are served in square slices with ample garlic, sauce and cheese – the latter of which is sometimes placed under the sauce.

Grandma/Nonna pizza
With a thinner (though still substantial) crust than the Sicilian-style pizza, rectangular Grandma-style pizza is served with a simple sauce and sometimes no cheese at all.

California-style pizza
A soft, pliant crust and smaller size makes California-style pizza the perfect vehicle to showcase the fresh ingredients found on the West coast. From avocado and sun-dried tomato to uni and miso, California pizza is a fresh fusion style that often bears little resemblance to Italy’s original pies.

Notable pizza styles around the world

Japanese pizza
Japanese pizza boasts a variety of styles. Mochi crust, mayonnaise sauce, eel – Japanese pizzerias offer something for everyone. Even American chains like Pizza Hut branch out in Japan, offering things like cheese and hot dog-stuffed crust pizzas and pizza topped with tempura shrimp and pineapple.

Korean pizza
Bearing little resemblance to the simple traditional pizzas of Italy, each Korean pizza tends to feature a variety of interesting toppings. From meats like bulgogi and dak galbi to corn, shrimp, figs, and cream cheese, when it comes to pizza toppings in Korea, creativity is the name of the game.

Scottish pizza
Scottish deep-fried pizza is popular at fish-and-chip shops. It is usually served with malt vinegar, salt, or a sauce for dipping.

Swedish pizza
Sweden has a rich pizza culture, and dozens of varieties are popular. One of the most unique is the kebab pizza, topped with doner kebab, onions, peppers, and kebab sauce. French fries are sometimes included, too.

Swedish pizzas are also notable due to their high toppings-to-crust ratio.

Argentinian fugazetta
Argentinian pizza crust bears more resemblance to focaccia than traditional Neapolitan pizza. It is usually loaded with cheese, sauce, and lots of toppings, which is possible thanks to its substantial crust.

Turkish pizza
Known as lahmacun, Turkish pizza is a round piece of flatbread dough topped with spicy minced meat, vegetables, and herbs.