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Is Pizza Italian Food or American?

Is Pizza Italian Food or American?

Pizza originates from Naples, Italy. It has a long and interesting history, and today it is firmly set in American culture as well. Variations of this food can be found in almost every country. 

Pizza, just one item in the fast food category, is a $30 billion industry per year [1]. It is extremely common in the western world, particularly in America and Europe. 

From very cheap street-food style pizza to expensive gourmet pizza, there are several options to choose from.

Is Pizza Italian Food or American? Infographic.

The Original Pizza

Pizza started off in Naples as a simple and economical street food. However, it was very different from the modern one. It was a flatbread with olive oil and herbs [2]. This is because, in 16th-century Naples, there were no tomatoes. 

Later, when the Spanish brought tomatoes from the Americas to Italy, they were added to pizzas, and gradually the concept of tomato sauce or puree was developed. Also, in early 16th century Italy, cheese was not yet added to pizzas. 

It was considered food for poor people and was commonly available through street vendors selling it in carts. It didn’t even have a defined recipe until much later. 

Another interesting fact is that the original pizza was mostly made as a sweet item [3], not a savory dish. Later on, as tomatoes, cheese, and various other toppings were introduced, it became more typical for it to be a savory item. 

A man making pizza around the year 1830, artwork.
A man making pizza around the year 1830
Civica Raccolta delle Stampe « Achille Bertarelli » 1830, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Pizza Moves to America

As Italian and European immigrants started moving to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in search of employment, they also brought with them their culinary heritage [4]

However, it didn’t become popular overnight. It took several decades for the humble pizza to become part of the American diet and culture. 

Since most European settlers arrived on the East Coast, the earliest pizzerias were located there. New York is home to what is considered the oldest pizzeria in America — Lombardi’s [5]. One of the most popular pizzas in America is York-style pizza (though pepperoni pizza is a close second).

In the early 1900s, pizza was only available in Italian neighborhoods, and just like in Italy, it was served in carts on the street and was considered cheap food. However, things started to change in the 1940s and 50s when pizza shops started opening up, and Italian restaurants started featuring pizza as a regular item. 

Later on, as mass-produced pizzas became more common in the form of frozen pizza, more people had access to this unique European delight, and it spread to more parts of America, even where Italian food wasn’t very common. 

When it arrived in the US, and Italian cuisine started to evolve and develop into the modern Americanized Italian cuisine that we know today, pizza also transformed into something very different than what people traditionally enjoyed in Italy. 

To this day, there are significant differences between the pizza found in the US and that found in Italy. The most notable difference is the use of various toppings. 

Typically, American pizza will be available with a wide variety and a heavy dose of toppings, while original Italian pizza has very few and light toppings on it. American favorites such as the York Pizza are a good combination of Italian and American pizza ideas.

White House staff join a pizza tasting gathering April 10, 2009, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.
White House staff join a pizza-tasting gathering on April 10, 2009, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.
Pete Souza, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Popularity in America

Pizza was affordable, unique, and offered in wide varieties, something that could be enjoyed as a snack or a complete meal. 

With the fast-paced American lifestyle, it quickly became a go-to item since it was convenient and delicious. It’s a fantastic item to enjoy at a game or party while standing around and socializing with people. 

Moreover, as America attracted more people from other parts of the world, who didn’t really know where pizza was from, they associated it with American culture. 

By the 1960s and 70s, pizza had cemented itself in American culture, and today you can find it even in the most remote US cities, gas stations, and upscale restaurants alike. 

Global Recognition 

As America and its culture dominated global media, pizza was widely promoted as one of the top American fast foods alongside burgers, fried chicken, milkshakes, and other items. 

From the 1950s onwards, when American culture was being broadcast to the entire world, pizza was also infiltrating other countries and cultures. 

Today, it is considered a basic food item that you can find nearly anywhere you go. Many multinational fast-food chains (e.g., Pizza Hut) base their entire business on this one product and operate in dozens of countries across the globe.

American vs. Italian Pizza

Even today, Italians who like traditional pizza will not accept American pizza as the real one. They will demand an authentic Neapolitan pizza or a queen Margherita.

Pizza Margherita.
Pizza Margherita
stu_spivack, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the main differences is the sauce. Traditional Italian pizza is made with a sauce that is simply tomato puree with garlic. American pizza is made with a tomato sauce that is slow-cooked and contains a lot more ingredients. 

New York-style pizza.
New York-style pizza
Hungrydudes, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Original Italian pizza is a thin-crust pizza, while the American one can have a thin, medium, or very thick crust. Authentic Italian pizza, as mentioned, keeps toppings to a bare minimum (like pizza Margherita which also bears a resemblance to the Italian flag), and any meat used is sliced very thin. American pizza can contain a heavy layer of many different toppings.

Traditional Italian pizzas also exclusively have mozzarella cheese, while American pizza can have any kind of cheese on it (cheddar cheese is a popular choice).


Pizza originated in Italy and is a central pillar of authentic Italian food, but that is not to say that the Americans haven’t made it their own. Both authentic Italian pizza and the countless American versions of it have something unique to offer. 

Today there are many pizza variations, and in every region and culture around the world, people have given it their taste and style. Whether you like light pizzas, heavy pizzas, or even sweet pizzas, there is something out there to suit your taste buds.