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What is the Difference Between American Pizza and Italian Pizza?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 16, 2024
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Many people know that American pizza derived from Italian pizza. What many people don’t know is the history behind Italian pizza and how Italian and American pizza developed. Italy, as it turns out, is not the first source of the pizza concept. Sources attribute that honor variously, including to Egyptian flatbread creations. It may have been Greek invaders in the first century A.D. who brought pizza to southern Italy.

Early pizzas were made of a roundish bit of dough with various seasonings, toppings, drippings, gravy, or whatever was around. The evolution into a standard, predictable “dish” seems to have come about as a result of the export of tomatoes from the New World to Naples, and — unknown to most people — this makes the first recognizable pizza style something of a joint Italian-American venture.

Apparently the first named pizza to spring up was what is now known as Pizza Margherita — a pizza topped with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. This was the favorite of Queen Margherita of Savoie, who visited Naples and tasted this pizza — subsequently named for her — in 1889. Now Italy had a particular and recognizable dish, endorsed by royalty and sporting the colors — red, white, and green — of the Italian flag. At this time, there was still no such thing as American pizza.

This pizza, along with other Neapolitan variations, including oregano and anchovies, came to American with immigrants at about the same time that Queen Margherita got her first taste of it. Reportedly, the first pizza sold commercially in the US was focaccia, a thick-crusted version of pizza that may also be referred to as “pan pizza.” These pizzas were available in Italian bakeries. The first pizzeria in the Little Italy section of New York City was apparently opened by Gennaro Lombardi, originally of Naples, in 1895.

Pizza increased in popularity both as a cheap meal-in-one food during the Great Depression and with the return of US servicemen from Italy at the end of World War II. The opening of pizzerias in this period mirrored the spread of pizzerias in Naples after the tomato first became available and pizzas experienced their first wave of popularity. Standardized fast-food version of pizza emerged, but with the growing interest in cuisines of other cultures that blossomed in the late twentieth century, pizza was affected as well.

Not only did experimentation lead to American pizza appearing in forms previously unimagined — featuring ingredients such as ham and pineapple, chocolate, Cajun shrimp, venison, the so-called “garbage” pizza topped with many different meats and vegetables, and “white pizza” made without tomato sauce. But also, the freedom to choose one’s toppings took pizza full circle — back to its beginnings in which a bit of dough and whatever one has on hand to bedeck it with enjoys the name of pizza. In the end, the difference between Italian and American pizza and the similarities between Italian and American pizza depend on the same, most important ingredient: the pizza maker.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for DelightedCooking, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By anon1003010 — On Apr 13, 2020

"Americans have this uncanny ability of stealing something original and screwing it up, just like Italian pizza."

You mean like noodles?

Oh, wait.

By anon989475 — On Mar 08, 2015

Why do you people talk about something you don't know about? In Italy we have different types of pizza. There is not only one as you guys said.

For example: Your Chicago style pizza we also have and it's called "pizza pugliese."

Then we have a very thin one, athicker one, "pizza pane" looks like bread, and pizza ripiena" stuffed pizza, and more. You just need to look it up. The American pizza are heavier (more cheese,more sauce and topping) than the average pizza in Italy but some restaurants in Italy also do something similar to American pizza.

By anon344088 — On Aug 05, 2013

American pizza does not compare to traditional Italian pizzas made in Italy, not even close.

Americans have this uncanny ability of stealing something original and screwing it up, just like Italian pizza.

By anon311186 — On Dec 30, 2012

American pizza is very innovative and changes, year in year out. Italian pizza is stuck somewhere in the 80s under the assumption its authentic. You'll find better pizza to suit exactly what consumers want in New York and Chicago. In Italy, it's eat this and love it, if you just don't know what you are talking about.

Italy has very little variation with a region, while New York styles change dramatically from restaurant to restaurant.

Pizza in the US is a significantly better choice than in Italy.

By anon309780 — On Dec 18, 2012

The restaurants I went to in Trieste, Italy served pizza with a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese (you could still see the crust between the melted pieces of cheese), a few cut/diced tomatoes and onions.

There was no "sauce" or meat involved. When I asked the server if they had marinara sauce, she giggled a little bit at me and shook her head, no. I have read that marinara sauce came from southern Italy, so don't know if being in Northern Italy was why the difference? The food however, was very different than anything in the US labeled as "Italian" especially the pizza.

By GreenWeaver — On Dec 26, 2010

Sunny27-The New York pizza is flat. Italian pizza vs. American pizza is very different.

Italian pizza in Italy is simple. The crust is thin and includes fresh tomato sauce and a bit of cheese.

It does not contain the amount of cheese as in the American pizzas. The taste is very light and not heavy like an American pizza.

Also, in Italy you would never see a deep dish pizza. Some Americans that go to Italy are often disappointed with the pizza because they are expecting the pizza to be prepared the way Americans eat them.

The Italian version of pizza is much healthier and it is not uncommon to have a thin crust pizza with some vegetables.

By Sunny27 — On Dec 24, 2010

The best all American pizza is either New York style pizza or Chicago style pizza.

These all American pie pizza is both delicious and both offer different textures and tastes.

The New York style pizza has a thinner crust than the Chicago style pizza and it contains rich mozzarella cheese and fresh tomato sauce with garlic and olive oil.

The Chicago style pizza which is served in restaurants like Uno Pizzeria and is a deep dish pizza.

Here the crust is deep and rich and the tip of the crust could up to two inches high.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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