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Who invented pizza?

Joey Palumbo
Vermont Public

How is pizza dough made? How does gluten-free dough rise? Who invented pizza? Is there pizza in every country? Is yeast alive?! Kids love pizza and they have questions! We get answers from Frank Pinello of Best Pizza in Williamsburg and Scott Wiener of Scott’s Pizza Tours.

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • Pizza dough is made with flour, yeast, water and salt.
  • Yeast is actually alive! Yeast is a single-celled organism that exists naturally in the environment. It’s a sugar-eating fungus.
  • Manufacturers grow yeast by feeding it molasses, which makes it produce more yeast. That yeast is often dehydrated so it’s not active until you mix it with water (and give it some food, in the form of flour).
  • You can actually collect yeast from the air in your kitchen by mixing flour and water and letting it sit. The yeast in the air will start to feed off the sugar in the flour and grow and reproduce. That’s what people are talking about when they mention their “sourdough starter.”
  • Yeast in the dough will eat the sugars in the flour and break down the gluten. The yeast emits carbon dioxide, which forms bubbles in the dough and causes the dough to rise. Those bubbles get trapped in the stretchy gluten and, when baked, allow the bread to be airy and fluffy, rather than dense and tough!
  • Gluten-free pizza doesn’t contain wheat flour, which has gluten. Other flours that don’t contain gluten are used instead, and then rising agents like xanthan gum are added to help the dough rise. Xanthan gum is a fine powder coating produced by a specific type of bacteria. 
  • Pizza was likely invented in Naples in the early 1500s, when tomatoes arrived in Europe. Prior to that, the word pizza might have referred to all kinds of baked treats, but the arrival of tomatoes brought us the pizza we know and love today.
  • Broadly speaking, pizza is a flat bread dough, covered with toppings, and then baked at high heat.
  • Pizza originated in Naples, Italy. When people from that area immigrated to New York City in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they took pizza with them and it caught on! It didn’t spread to other parts of Italy until after that. Eventually, pizza gained popularity all over the world!
  • Many cultures have their own version of pizza, and it might be one of the world’s most popular foods.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.

But Why is a project of Vermont Public.

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