Italian Pizza vs American Pizza may look similar on the surface, but scratch just below to discover a world of subtle differences that make each unique. From the type of crust to the ingredients used in making individual pizzas, there are many distinguishing factors between American and Italian pies. In this post we will explore why these two types of pizza stand out from one another, as well as which might be best for you depending on your taste preferences.
The History Of Italian Pizza
The history of Italian pizza dates back to 1738 when the first pizza restaurant, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, emerged in Naples. As the dish gained popularity, particularly among tourists, it sparked a culinary revolution. In 1889, pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito crafted the iconic “Pizza Margherita” to honor Queen consort Margherita of Savoy. This pizza consisted solely of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, symbolizing the colors of the Italian flag.
The History Of American Pizza
The history of American pizza can be traced back to 17th century Naples, where it originated, and its arrival in America was credited to Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. From coast to coast, Americans indulge in over three billion pizzas annually.
The Importance Of Pizza In Italian And Americanized Cuisine
Pizza holds a significant place in Italian culinary heritage, representing more than just a meal. It originated in Naples and quickly became a popular and affordable choice for the working class. Over time, pizza has transcended boundaries and is now enjoyed by people from all backgrounds, extending far beyond Italy’s borders. In the United States, pizza took on an Americanized twist as Italian immigrants brought their cherished recipes to the new world, particularly after World War II. This adaptation involved incorporating local tastes and ingredients.
Cultural and Culinary Differences Of Italian Vs American Pizza
From preparation to presentation, Italian and American pizzas diverge greatly. Let’s break down key differences in ingredients, crusts, toppings, and the overall dining experience.
Crust, Sauce, and Toppings
Traditional Neapolitan pizza uses minimal, high quality ingredients that allow the character of each to shine. These include:
- Dough – soft, chewy, lightly charred crust made from fine Tipo “00” wheat flour. Hand-stretched, not rolled.
- Sauce – vibrant crushed San Marzano tomatoes. No paste.
- Cheese – fresh mozzarella, hand-pulled into soft curds.
- Toppings – limited toppings like basil, olive oil, anchovies.
In contrast, American pizzas tend to have more elaborate toppings and bolder flavors. Some differences include:
- Crust – typically thicker and doughier than Italian crust. More emphasis on crispness in some styles. Can include butter or oil for more flavor and browning.
- Sauce – fuller-bodied, with added seasonings like garlic, onion, and oregano. Ranges from thick to sweet.
- Cheese – primarily mozzarella, but often blended with other cheeses like provolone or cheddar.
- Toppings – far more generous and creative toppings like pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, and more.
So while Italian pizza focuses on quality ingredients and simplicity, American pizza spotlights creativity and abundantly topped pies.
The Dining Experience
In Italy, pizza remains a food focused on community and social gathering:
- Pizza is often shared family-style in a relaxed setting.
- Dining is leisurely, with pizza served as a starter then followed by pasta/entree dishes.
- Pizzerias tend to be small and informal, emphasizing the food and company.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. pizza has adapted more into fast casual and takeout fare:
- Pizza is frequently a quick, on-the-go meal eaten individually.
- Dining at pizzerias can be quicker and more casual, with an emphasis on delivery.
- Pizzeria chains focus on convenience, speed, and jumbo-sized pies.
So the classic Italian pizza experience is more about community and shared meals, while American pizza culture highlights convenience and on-the-go eating.
Regional Variations and Global Influences
Beyond the divergences between Italian and American pizzas, there are also notable regional differences within each country.
Exploring Italy’s Diverse Pizza Styles
While Naples gave birth to modern pizza, great pizzas have emerged across Italy:
- Neapolitan – Synonymous with tradition. Soft, chewy crust, simple light toppings.
- Roman – Cracker-thin, crispy crust cut into squares. Toppings & cheese only on top.
- Sicilian – Thick, spongy crust. Topped first, then sauce added. Lots of oregano.
- Pugliese – Thin crust, irregularly shaped. Crust evenly topped to edge before baking.
- Calzone – A half-moon stuffed pizza pocket. Filled with ricotta, mozzarella, meats.
America’s Pizza Tapestry
As we saw earlier, American regional styles have added to pizza’s diversity:
- New York – Huge, foldable slices. Bubble-charred, thin to thick crust.
- Chicago Deep Dish – Deep pie pan or cake-like crust filled with chunky sauce and tons of cheese.
- Detroit – Butter-brushed pan pizza with cheesy crust edges.
- California – Creative toppings on light, thin crust. Emphasis on fresh produce.
- Greek – Fluffy, spongy crust with sesame seeds. Tangy sauce.
So both in Italy and the U.S., local tastes and traditions have expanded pizza possibilities exponentially.
Ingredients and Authenticity
When it comes to ingredients, Italian pizza puts a premium on quality local ingredients and terroir. American pizza is more flexible, adapting ingredients to local tastes.
Sourcing and Quality of Ingredients
Great Italian pizza starts with high standards for ingredients:
- Flour – fine Tipo “00” flour. Lower gluten content = softer crust.
- Cheese – Fresh mozzarella like Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP; from designated regions.
- Tomatoes – San Marzano tomatoes DOP grown in Vesuvius’ mineral-rich soil.
- Basil – Fresh, aromatic basil.
- Olive oil – High quality, aromatic, extra virgin olive oil.
Many key ingredients carry DOP certifications ensuring specific geographic origins and production methods.
American pizzas are more flexible:
- Cheese – Primarily mozzarella, often blended with cheddar or provolone.
- Sauce – Wider array of tomato sauces or styles like pesto, white sauce, barbecue.
- Toppings – Anything goes, from classic meats to gourmet options like figs, prosciutto, pineapple. Locally sourced produce common in some regions.
So Italian pizza prizes regulated, regional ingredients, while American pizza is open to creativity and fusion.
Certifications and Standards
To preserve authentic Neapolitan pizza tradition, Italy has strict standards and designations:
- STG – Specialità Tradizionale Garantita label guarantees traditional Neapolitan preparation.
- VPN – The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana association certifies authentic Neapolitan pizza and pizzerias around the world.
- DOC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata regulates Neapolitan pizza ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella.
The U.S. has no legally defined pizza standards. But some localities like Portland, Oregon have started uncertified “authentic” labels modelled after Neapolitan traditions. So ingredients and methods are codified in Italy, while pizza identity is more informal in the American context.
The Business of Italian Pizza vs American Pizza
Pizza is big business, generating billions annually in both Italy and the United States. But the industry dynamics differ greatly between the two countries.
Economic Impact and Industry Size
Pizza’s economic footprint is enormous in both Italy and the U.S:
- Italy – €15+ billion yearly revenue. Over 63,000 pizzerias employing 200,000 people.
- United States – $45+ billion yearly revenue. About 77,000 pizzerias. 1 in 8 restaurants serve pizza.
But the industry makeup contrasts significantly:
- Italy – Dominated by small, family-run pizzerias following generations-old traditions. Chains almost non-existent.
- United States – Massive pizza chains like Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s claim over half the market share. Franchises and deliver-focused concepts prevalent. Market is consolidating as chains gain ground over independent shops.
So while both countries generate substantial pizza revenues, Italy’s market remains fragmented and traditional, while the U.S. is massively dominated by big chains.
Innovations in Delivery and Technology
Technology has dramatically impacted pizza, especially when it comes to ordering and delivery:
- Online ordering – More than half of U.S. pizza orders now happen online. Platforms like Slice make online ordering easy.
- Mobile apps – Apps from big chains allow easy ordering, tracking, discounts, and payments.
- Delivery technology – GPS delivery tracking, insulated bags, and pizza-specific boxes have emerged. Some pizzerias use drones and robots to deliver pizzas.
- Automation – Conveyor ovens, sauce and dough dispensers allow fast, consistent preparation.
Italy has been slower to adopt many of these high-tech shifts. Most Italian pizzerias still take orders by phone or in person. Delivery is less popular. So technology has thoroughly disrupted the American pizza industry, while Italian pizza remains comparatively low-tech and rooted in tradition.
Health, Sustainability, and Adaptations
As tastes evolve, both Italian and American pizzas have adapted to trends in health, sustainability, and dietary restrictions.
Pizza can vary greatly in calories, fat, carbs, and other nutrition metrics based on portion sizes and toppings. But some general comparisons:
- Authentic Neapolitan pizza tends to be lighter and simpler, with fewer calories than American styles. A personal-sized Neapolitan margherita can have around 800 calories.
- American pizza slices are often larger or deeper, topping-heavy, and oilier. Just 2 NY slices can approach 1000 calories. Chicago deep dish can hit 1600+ calories per pie!
- Most pizza’s fat and calories come from cheese and fatty meats like pepperoni and sausage. Vegetables provide key nutrients and fiber.
However, pizza enjoying sensible portions, with veggie toppings, and avoiding excess fatty meats, can be a reasonably healthy option in both cuisines.
Sustainability has become a growing priority in the pizza industry:
- Local sourcing – Local ingredients reduce transport miles. Many pizzerias highlight local produce.
- Renewable energy – Some pizzerias offset energy use with solar, wind, etc. & pursue net zero emissions.
- Recyclable packaging – Pizzerias increasingly use recyclable and compostable boxes, cups, and bags.
- Electric vehicles – Electric scooters and cars allow emissions-free pizza delivery.
Many leading Neapolitan pizzerias champion local ingredients and sustainable kitchens. American chains have green programs too, but local pizzerias lead sustainability efforts.
Adapting to Dietary Trends
Pizza has adapted across cultures to meet changing dietary preferences:
- Gluten-free – Rice, tapioca, and nut flours allow gluten-free pizza crusts.
- Cauliflower crust – Crumbled, roasted cauliflower substitutes for dough. Appeals to low-carb and paleo eaters.
- Vegan cheese – Plant-based cheeses from ingredients like nuts and coconut oil replicate the melt and taste.
- Meatless toppings – Pizzas can please vegetarians or vegans with toppings like mushrooms, peppers, plant-based sausage.
So whether avoiding carbs, gluten, dairy or meat, there are now pizzas to suit virtually any diet.
Social and Cultural Impact
Despite divergences in style, both Italian and American pizzas remain cherished social and cultural foods.
Pizza in Community and Social Events
Italians and Americans share a love of pizza for fueling social gatherings and community celebrations. In both cultures, pizza:
- Is a favorite food for big events like birthdays parties, sports gatherings, holidays.
- Is the go-to meal for informal get-togethers with friends and family.
- Is a favorite takeout or delivery comfort food during hard times.
- Brings people together across generations and backgrounds.
Pizza’s affordable prices, adaptability, and crowd-pleasing flavors make it a cross-cultural social glue.
Globalization and Its Effects
Pizza’s spread globally has blurred lines between Italian and American styles:
- Pizza Hut and Domino’s have made American-style pizza ubiquitous worldwide.
- But authentic Neapolitan pizza has also spread far beyond Italy. VPN certification helps maintain standards.
- Pizzerias worldwide now pick and choose across styles – for example, Italian-inspired thin crust with American toppings.
- Truly authentic Italian pizza still remains anchored to place, but globalization has sparked creative hybrids.
Despite concerns about diluting tradition, globalized pizza has also helped spark creativity and passion worldwide for diverse pizza styles.
The Future of Italian Pizza vs American Pizza
Where is pizza headed next? Technology and innovation will likely continue disrupting pizza on both sides of the Atlantic.
We’ll likely see ongoing technology revolutions in the pizza industry:
- Delivery drones, self-driving cars, even robot deliveries may someday be the norm. Domino’s and others are actively developing drone systems.
- In-car ovens could cook pizzas en route in driverless delivery vehicles.
- Ever smarter apps and interfaces will allow instant pizza ordering and real-time interactions with restaurants. Voice-based AI ordering is already expanding.
- Supply chain innovations will make ingredients ever more customizable and traceable as consumer demand grows..
While technology has more radically altered American pizza, innovation will continue reshaping the industry globally.
Trends and Predictions
Beyond tech breakthroughs, what else might reshape pizza? Some top trends and predictions:
- Plant-based, vegan pizza will keep booming as more people opt for meatless diets.
- Hyper-local sourcing and seasonal ingredients will grow, especially at gourmet pizzerias.
- Quick-service and take-and-bake concepts will continue disrupting traditional restaurants.
- Delivery-only “ghost kitchens” will expand as tech improves delivery economics.
- Automation will increase with things like robotic kitchens and self-service ordering kiosks.
- Customization and personalization will be a big trend – think AI that knows your favorite pizza!
Between cutting-edge technology and human creativity, pizza has an exciting future ahead.
Bobby Kelly is a bartender at Molly Magees, an Irish pub in Mountain View. He’s been working there for two years and has developed a following among the regulars. Bobby is known for his friendly demeanor and great drink specials. He loves interacting with customers and making them feel welcome. When he’s not at work, Bobby enjoys spending time with his friends and family.