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Pizza: history of the name

In the official dictionary of the Italian language (UTET, 1986, vol. XIII) the word “pizza” indicates a mostly round and flat pie, made of wheat or other grain, either sweet or salty. The same dictionary states also that the name usually indicates a salty pie, made with wheat flour, and topped with oil, tomato sauce and other possible ingredients, such as anchovies, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, oregano, basil leaves, ham or prosciutto, to obtain many variations indicated by more or less specific names.

In another dictionary, compiled by the Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana in 1991, the word pizza is described as follows: dish, prepared with wheat flour (but also corn, chestnut or other flours), mixed with milk or water, yeast, eggs, oil, lard or butter. To such dough, usually shaped into circular flat pies and baked, are possibly added other ingredients either sweet, savory, Easter style, rustic, which assumes different characteristics according to different geographic regions in which it exists.

For instance, in Tuscany and adjacent Umbria, pizza rustica implies a flat pie of wheat flour, eggs, cheese, black pepper and cured pork meat (ciccioli), well leavened like a bread. In particular, the word means a flat, thin pie, made with wheat flour, yeast and water, various toppings, flattened by hand in a round shape, and oven baked, mostly in a wood burning oven. According to the toppings used it can assume different names such as Neapolitan Style, Margherita, Marinara, with mushrooms, ham, Capricciosa, Four Seasons, and more.

Pan-pizza is usually made in large rectangular pans, baked in electric ovens and usually sold by the pound or by the square. In Rome, pizza indicates a flat bread flavored with salt and olive oil, used as bread, especially for Prosciutto sandwiches, or ricotta cheese sandwiched, or other types of sandwiches, and usually called Pizza Bianca or White Pizza, to differentiate it from the traditional tomato-topped pizza, called Pizza Rossa or Red Pizza.

There is even another definition for the word “pizza”: word generally used in the central and southern most part of Italy to indicate a flat bread or pie, made with wheat or other grain, savory or sweet, either thin or thick, usually round. Starting from the 19th century, the Neapolitan style pizza, topped with oil and tomato sauce, or dressed with anchovies, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, oregano, basil leaves, ham or prosciutto, has surged as what is commonly meant by pizza, now available in all of Italy and most of the western world.
In addition to this specific kind, Italy offers a wide variety of pizzas since the term generally indicates pies, flat breads and the like. The name itself is just as common as its flavour, has different variations according to geographic area and dialect, ranging from the Venetion “pinza” to the “pitta” found in Calabria.

The last definition, as clear as it might seem, stresses the fact that the word “pizza” has a very generic meaning, and that, over time, and in various regions the term has been used to indicate many different preparations.

To sum up, all the long, complex definitions above mentioned, give the same bottom line: “pizza” is wheat flat bread, and many synonyms can be offered in Italian and various dialects. The universally known “Pizza” comes from the Latin word pinsere, which means to flatten or to push down, brake down, grind and reduce to a pulp. And from the same root most probably comes the Venetian word, “pinsa”, a traditional sweet cake, traditionally baked for the day of the Three Kings, that is usually round but sometimes rectangular and always rather thin; but “pinsa” is the name given as well to a thin, flat pie made with wheat or chestnut flour, and oil, traditionally cooked under the ashes of the fireplace.

Due to the multiplicity of meanings of the word pizza and their connections to antique recipes, to know more on the subject and to fully understand its whole meaning, which has haunted historian, linguists and food experts, it is necessary to start with a historic research of the origins of civilization.