Pizza has been topped with tomatoes for so long that it’s hard to imagine that tomatoes weren’t always a pizza staple. While you may find that surprising, you may find it even more surprising that tomatoes weren’t introduced to Italy until the 16th Century.
The tomato isn’t an authentically Italian food item. They are native to the Americas. When the Spanish returned home after their voyage to North and South America, they brought the tomato back with them. Eventually, the beloved fruit/vegetable made its way to Italy.
While the tomato arrived in Italy earlier, the first record of the tomato in Italy comes from Cosimo de’ Medici, the grand duke of Tuscany, who wrote on October 31, 1548 that a basket of tomatoes had arrived at his Florentine estate safely. At the time, tomatoes were commonly grown in Italy as ornamentals because the populace found them to be beautiful and could easily create new varieties of tomatoes for their gardens.
Once the tomato reached Italy, it took a while for the fruit to take off as a food. The upper class didn’t want to eat them because they grew close to the ground, suggesting low status, while the lower classes had no reason to eat them because they were not as filling as fruits they already ate. Complicating matters was the fact that some tomatoes are toxic, which discouraged people from eating any variety.
In the late 17th Century, the tomato was finally incorporated into the local cuisine. In 1692, Antonio Latini’s cookbook “Lo scalo ala moderna” published a recipe for tomato sauce. By the end of the 18th Century, it was common for poor Italians in Naples to add tomatoes to their yeast-based flat breads, paving the way for modern pizza. Soon after its creation, pizza’s popularity spread. Tourists would travel to Naples’ poorer areas to try the local specialty.
Pizza’s popularity continues to this day. You can find some variation of it in almost every country.