It is a meal within itself, combining all food groups displayed in one steamy slice.
Americans love their pizza, consuming 23 pounds each within a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The popularity of the pie has evolved over the years, so much so that October has been dubbed National Pizza Month by the National Association of Pizza Operators.
So roll out the dough, grate the cheese and slice the toppings to your heart’s content. Pizza is not just for pepperoni lovers anymore, it has evolved into a healthy alternative. In fact, it has been evolving for several centuries across two continents.
“There have been three main changes in pizza in America,” said Levon Touryan, owner of Lake Tahoe Pizza Company.
These three key stages in the American pie were the pizza’s arrival on the East Coast, its westward migration and its upgrade to gourmet status, he added.
The pizza is commonly thought to be of Italian descent, but one of its first ancestors was originally made in ancient Greece.
According to The Pizza Site web page, it began as a simple bread baked beneath the stones of a fire, with seasonings added after baking.
Known as focaccia bread, its origin can be traced as far back as 1000 B.C. It served as an edible plate, brought to Northern Italy by the Etruscans.
The Greeks decided to put the toppings on before baking. It became a main dish, rather than an addition.
Tomato sauce was not added until 1522. The tomato was originally believed to be poisonous, being brought from South America. In Naples, the poor, desperate for food and not too finicky, were the first to add it to their dough, and the modern pizza was born.
The first pizzeria in America opened in 1905 in New York, according to The Pizza Book.
However, the pizza did not gain widespread national acceptance until after World War II, when soldiers who served in Europe brought the idea back with them, Touryan said. These veterans started family based pizzerias, mostly on the East Coast.
Italian cookbooks in America prior to the 1950s have no reference to pizza.
When pizza moved out West, it took on the franchised look that featured home delivery. Popularity grew through the fast preparation and delivery market.
The growing niche today is appealing to the health and quality conscious appetite that prefers a slower-paced, sit-down environment.
“Its developed into the gourmet, home-based style on the one hand, or the mass produced on the other,” Touryan said.
No matter what kind of pizza Americans order, there is no lag in its popularity. According to Pizza Today, a monthly publication of the National Association of Pizza Operators, pizza is the No. 2 entree in food services. It represents more than 10 percent of all food sales and is expected to exceed the hamburger.
For a food that has been around for almost 3,000 years, pizza has evolved to take a considerable bite out of the market.
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