How Neapolitan Pizza Came to Be so Popular

Neapolitan pizza is one of the oldest and simplest Italian foods, yet it has remained a favorite among pizza lovers around the world for well over a century. The bright red, green, and white toppings of Neapolitan pizza are familiar to pizza lovers, but not too many people are aware of the rich history and […]

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Neapolitan pizza is one of the oldest and simplest Italian foods, yet it has remained a favorite among pizza lovers around the world for well over a century. The bright red, green, and white toppings of Neapolitan pizza are familiar to pizza lovers, but not too many people are aware of the rich history and strict rules that are involved in making and enjoying this abundantly flavorful pie. 

What is Neapolitan Pizza?

Neapolitan pizza, or pizza Napoletana, is a unique kind of pizza that was first created in Naples, Italy. Traditionally, this particular style of pizza is made with fresh, simple ingredients: dough, raw tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and olive oil.  

“Speaking of tradition, the most unique feature of Neapolitan pizza is the crust. The neapolitan pizza uses Italian Tipo “00” flour, which is soft wheat flour,” says Harland Adkins from Fast Food Menu Prices.

“There is an unwritten rule that one cannot call their pizza Neapolitan-style without it. Neapolitan pizza has a very thin crust at the base, with dough that puffs up around the sides and provides for a very airy crust. It makes the dough thin and soft, and the crust crispy from the wood-fired stone pizza oven. It has a light flavor that is not overwhelming, enhancing the flavor of the tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and any other toppings you may desire on it. And there are so many varieties of toppings if you even want them. This is the best pizza I have ever eaten,” Harland says.

“What I like about Neapolitan pizza is what I like about making all simple foods,” revealed John Bedford, founder of Viva Flavor, a site dedicated to helping amateur cooks explore the world of food and drink. “They have to be made extremely well, using fresh ingredients, as there’s nowhere for low-quality ingredients to hide. Everything has to cut through, and the acidity of fresh tomatoes balances the mozzarella perfectly. Basil’s one of my favorite herbs all around as well, so it’s a very easy win for me. I have two young children too, so I don’t have to worry about fussy eating fads with a simple pizza. Everyone’s happy!”

What Makes a Neapolitan Pizza Authentic?

Jim Mumford, food professional, cookbook author, chemical engineer, and creator of Jim Cooks Food Good, explained, “Neapolitan (as in, of Naples) style pizza was and is the grandfather to the pizzas we in America love today. True Neapolitan pizzas though have certain rules; according to the AVPN (an Italian group dedicated to preserving the original Neapolitan pizza), the dough can only contain flour, water, salt, and yeast. This simplicity is what I adore about the pizza; every ingredient must be perfect, both in quality and preparation.”

For a Neapolitan pizza to earn the AVPN Certificate of Authenticity, it has to be made in a very specific way, using only certain ingredients. A true Neapolitan pizza crust is made of highly refined Italian type 0 or 00 wheat flour, Neapolitan or fresh brewer’s yeast, salt, and water. The dough must be kneaded by hand, or kneaded in a low-speed mixer then formed by hand. The dough is never rolled and it must be carefully handled to avoid over-kneading it, otherwise, it will come out tough and lack the light, airy texture that Neapolitan pizza is known for.  

The carefully constructed dough is then topped with raw, pureed Italian San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Only two types of mozzarella can be used: fior di latte which is made from cow’s milk or mozzarella di Bufala, which is made from water buffalo milk. The Neapolitan pizza is then topped with fresh basil and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

The Neapolitan pizza is then baked for a maximum of 90 seconds in a wood-fired, stone oven at a minimum of 800 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The only three official variants of true Neapolitan pizza are:

  • Pizza Margherita – Topped with tomato, fresh sliced mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pizza Marinara – Topped with tomato, garlic, oregano, and extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pizza Margherita Extra – Topped with tomato, sliced mozzarella di Bufala, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil

“One of its defining characteristics is that there is often more sauce than cheese. This leaves the middle of the pie wet or soggy and not conducive to being served by the slice. Because of this, Neapolitan pizzas are generally pretty small (about 10 to 12 inches), making them closer to the size of a personal pizza.” says Jeremy Scott Foster, the founder of TravelFreak.

Why is Neapolitan Pizza So Popular?

One possible explanation for Neapolitan pizza’s notable popularity lies in its exclusivity. Only restaurants and pizzerias that adhere to the strict guidelines of the AVPN can say they make true Neapolitan pizza. If they haven’t been certified by the AVPN, they serve Neapolitan-style pizza. Neapolitan-style pizza has a thin and soft crust topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. The pizza is then cooked at a high temperature, creating pockets of air in the crust with signature spots of flavorful char.

Any food, particularly a pizza, that has to meet very strict guidelines, is automatically more enticing to the average consumer. The thought is that these rules have been put in place for a reason. In this case, the AVPN recognized the importance of protecting the rich history of Naples’ world-famous cultural cuisine. 

Neapolitan pizza also caught the attention of people across the globe as the pandemic forced people to spend more time at home. As visits to restaurants and pizzerias dwindled, orders for home pizza ovens rose dramatically. Once people discovered they could make their own wood-fired pizza at home, companies like Ooni couldn’t keep their wood-fired pizza ovens in stock. Thousands of people suddenly had the ability to make wood-fired, stone-baked pizza at home, which led to greater interest in pizza recipes their domestic ovens weren’t capable of making. 

Another reason for Neapolitan pizza’s steady increase in popularity is its simplicity. Particularly in America, where a “bigger is better” attitude reigns supreme, many people long for simplicity. With hand-crafted dough and only a few, fresh toppings, Neapolitan pizza is as simple as they come. Neapolitan pizza is the perfect solution for when you’re tired of being overwhelmed by long lists of ingredients and the pressure of choosing from dozens of ingredients. And as millions of people all over the world will eagerly tell you, the pizza is simple but its flavor and the experience you have while enjoying it, are anything but. 

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