History of Pasta
What is the origin of pasta? Who invented pasta? Is pasta healthy? How should you cook pasta? These are just a few questions that we often hear and the answers are interesting. This is not just a story about the history of pasta, but much wider than that.
This is also story about more than 600 different pasta shapes and how it has become one of the most widely used dishes in the world.
Where better to start a pasta story than in Italy? Although it is often believed that the famous traveller Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy, that is completely wrong, because pasta was previously known in the former Italian city states. There is a record in the will of a Genoan soldier where he asked for “bariscella peña de macarone” – a small basket of macaroni. His will is from 1279, 16 years before Marco Polo returned from his travels. In fact, some theories suggests that Marco Polo connects with pasta solely from one advertisement at the beginning of the last century by a Canadian company that produces spaghetti.
To be precise, the first records of pasta are 5,000 years old and originated from China. Some 40 km north of Rome there is a bas-relief carving in Etruscan tombs from the 5th century BC showing the tool for producing the paste – a flour bin, a rolling-out table and a pastry wheel.
Since pasta is essentially a very simple foodstuff, basically consisting only of flour and water, it is very likely that it has appeared in different civilizations simultaneously. It was not difficult to mix the water and the flour obtained by grinding wheat. So Greek mythology attributes to God Hefest a device for making strings of dough. Although it is not about today’s pasta and all its possible shapes, it was written by Greek physicist Galen from the second century AD, named Itrion, as well as Roman poet Horatio and even more famous writer, politician and speaker Cicero, who called it lagana, clear allusion on the well-known lasagne. However, what the Romans knew was a dough that was cooked either as pizza or as today’s lasagne. The first records of pasta that is prepared by boiling can be found in the Talmud where it is called Itrium and is considered a standard meal in what was then Palestine. Additionally, couscous is a type of pasta that was known at that time in Northern Africa.
There are many records in the Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Arab and even early medieval European literature, especially if we consider that it was the Dark Agesnand the written word is not so common, but pasta found its place even in such stark sources.
Anyway, the pasta was present and known in almost all the Mediterranean ancient civilizations, but in Italy something happened that made pasta so popular, so beloved and so Italian.
Specifically, near the city of Naples in Southern Italy is a place Gragnano, where pasta, as we know it today, manufacturing first began. Due to the dry wind called the Ponetino and the wet and warm wind of Vesubiano, there is special microclimate suitable for drying pasta, even in the streets.
It is the beginning of the 16th century when first more complex machines for production were invented, and history of pasta, as we know it, begins here. From then until the beginning of the 20th century, it was not unusual to see spaghetti and other pasta drying in the city streets.
Even today, the first Italian pasta protected by the “Protected Geographical Indications” of the European Union is produced in this region – pasta di Gragnano. It is made from local wheat and soft spring water from the Lattari Mountain with traditional techniques of production and drying.
Artisanal pasta-making quickly expanded to Southern Italy and in 1546 the first gild of pasta-makers named Corporation of Pasta-Makers, was founded in Naples. Only three years later a similar association was founded in Genova, and later in Savona.
Even Giordano Bruno in his works quotes a Neapolitan saying, “è il Cascata Maccarone dentro il formaggio” which means – the Maccheroni has fallen into the cheese, or something good happened. Unfortunately for him, his maccheroni did not fall into the cheese, as the church inquisition burned him as a heretic, just because he claimed the Earth was not in the centre of the universe.
The next two decades of pasta-making was artisanal until the middle of the 18th century when the first pasta factory was opened, in then still powerful Venice. Authorities in Venice gave the permission to the certain Paolo Adami to open the first pasta factory with one condition, he must impart the secret of making good pasta to his assistants, who were, of course, Venetians. Let’s not forget that the Venetians really liked to possess secrets, one of them being a glass making, which includes mirrors especially. All the craftsmen who knew the secret of making the glass were given almost identical rights as the Venetian noblemen had, along with a little limitation – all were enclosed on the island of Murano. Under the threat of death, they were forbidden to leave island, in order to keep the secret of making glass in Venice. However, the Venetians are responsible for industrial pasta manufacturing, which meant that the pasta was now available to a large number of people both geographically and by the price, because it was no longer so expensive as it was now made in a factory and not handmade.
Thanks to industrial production, at the beginning of 19th century, pasta was no longer reserved for nobility, but entered into the middle and upper tier of Italian society. But the 19th Century will be, because of the many other inventions, crucial to pasta world fame. Let’s not forget until then the pasta was widespread in Southern Italy and somewhat in the north but is not yet widely known to the world.
Two inventions, the purifier of wheat semolina from which pasta is made, as well as a hydraulic press along with perfect molds, have enabled the emergence of numerous shapes and types. If we add to this equation, traditional Italian creativity, it is clear where so many different types of pasta came from. At the end of the 19th century the factory offered between 150-200 different pasta shapes.
Today there are more than 600 pasta shapes, sometimes with very unusual names, so vermicelli are small worms, linguine little tongues, farfalle are butterflies, orechiette small ears and ravioli little turnips while spaghetti means strings. It is important to distinguish which pasta is suitable for which type of dish, but this is already a whole science. Let’s just mention that long and thin pasta goes with thinner sauces, thicker pasta is served with harder and meat sauces, while small and granular pasta is added to the soups.
However, 19th century was the time when the pasta and tomatoes were first discovered. When tomatoes came to America in the middle of the 16th century, they were considered an ornamental plant believed to be poisonous, partly because the plant itself is poisonous, but the fruit is not. Although the first records of tomato sauce dates from 1778 from certain chef Vincenzo Corrado in his cook book “The Gentleman’s Chef”. Then it was not mentioned in the pasta context, but it was only a matter of time when someone would combine them. It is certain that this happened at the beginning of the 19th century, but tomato and pasta in the written form of, were mentioned for the first time in 1839. Since then, these two groceries are inextricably linked to all the kitchens of the world, but their “common performance” popularized them as well as individual groceries.
The next important step, or rather destination, towards global fame was America. In the 19th Century, and this trend continued at the beginning of the 20th century as well, with many Italians who were looking for a better life in the United States, brought their eating habits with them, and most famous of which was pasta.
Although we must mention, the first to bring pasta to the United States was a latter US President, and at that time US Ambassador in France – Tomas Jefferson. When he visited Naples he was so enthusiastic about the macaroni, that beside several pasta cases he ordered a machine for its making to be delivered to the US.
Here we come to the reason why the paste is spreading so quickly. Besides being tasty and inexpensive, it is very easy to prepare food and can be safely kept, stored and transported without problems. Another reason is Italian diet, very popular all over the world, both form cultural and health point of view. Above all because of countless shapes, pasta dishes are also very diverse and imaginative. Later on, in the popularization of the pasta Hollywood got involved and after the Second World War, and especially the 60s of the last century, pasta became an inevitable food in kitchens all over the world.
As it was more widespread, the pasta became politically exposed and important, so in the war for the unification of Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian revolutionary and one of the most prominent for modern Italy, noted the importance of the paste when he said to one of his comrades: “It will be maccheroni, I swear to you, that will unite Italy. “
The twentieth century was a century of different ideas and movements, very often weird and dangerous and an art movement called futurism inspired by the rejection of tradition, progress, technology, but also war. Futurism declared war on pasta claiming it was the cause of all woes in Italian society.
According to poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who by announcing the Manifesto of Futurism in the Paris diary Le figaro, laid the foundations of futurism, pasta is an “absurd Italian gastronomic religion”, and eating it leads to “pessimism, nostalgic inactivity and neutralism”. Other futurist Marco Ramperti wrote “spaghetti poisons us” and “our thoughts wind round each other, get mixed up and tangled like the vermicelli we’ve taken in.”
Although we do not know why, futurists wanted to replace pasta with rice. Perhaps the rice then appeared more futuristically, but anyway, because of the overwhelming inspiration of the war, some of them even tried their luck in the First World War and died, which, among other things, led to a gradual disappearance of the movement, and thus the resistance to pasta.
It is unknown on what the futurists have based their opposition to pasta, but today the health and nutritional value of pasta is very well known.
- Pasta is a rich source of carbohydrates and contains proteins. Carbohydrates are important for the body because they contain glucose that is the key fuel for brain and muscles.
- One cup of cooked spaghetti contains about 200 calories, 40 grams of carbohydrates, less than one gram of total fat, no cholesterol and only one gram of sodium when is cooked without salt
- Pasta has a low glycemic index (GI) so it does not cause a rapid spread of blood sugar. The GI measures how fast carbohydrate causes increased blood sugar – the greater the number, the greater the response to the blood sugar.
- Pasta is an integral part of a balanced diet. Current recommended nutrition requires up to 65% of daily calories coming from carbohydrates
Scientists have conducted studies that show people who eat a lot of pasta are less likely to have excessive body mass, which is connected with the role of pasta in the famous Mediterranean diet – rich in fresh vegetables and olive oil.
There are also studies that show that pasta contain barley farina(flour) can improve resistance to heart attacks.
In the sea of information about healthy diet, the key question that emerges is – Is Pasta Healthy? The best answer to this question was given by scientists from 9 countries. They met in October 2015, in Milan, Italy, during the 5th World Pasta Congress, organized by the non-profit food and nutrition organizations Oldways, the International Pasta Organization (IPO) and AIDEPI.
Based on the latest research on pasta and health, they have come with the conclusion of the Joint 2015 Healthy Pasta Meals Scientific Consensus Statement, which consists of 12 points, and among other things it is stated there, that pasta is a key component of many traditional eating habits in the world, like scientifically proven Mediterranean diet. Many clinical trials confirm that excess calories, not carbohydrates, are responsible for obesity. Diet that is successful in promoting weight loss can contain a range of healthy carbohydrates, proteins and fat.
The last sentence is the answer to another question – ‘Will eating pasta make me fat?’ So, the answer is no! Moreover, the pasta as part of the Mediterranean diet is recommended because it combines pasta with fresh vegetables, tomato sauce, olive oil and a small proportion of fish and other proteins. It is important to remember that the size of the meal is a key factor affecting weight. According to most dieticians, healthy serving pasta for an adult is about half to two-thirds of a cup of cooked pasta (80 grams of cooked pasta). And you can fill the rest of the plate with countless combinations of vegetables, fish, cheese, olive oil, etc …
The influence of the pasta on the body weight may be best answered by the legendary Italian actress and sex symbol from 60’s and 70’s Sophia Loren – “Everything you see I owe to Spaghetti.”
And to end with a few tips on how to make an excellent pasta:
- Do not add oil to the water where the pasta is cooked. The oil will not help to make the paste neat, and it will make pasta to slick from souce. When it is cooking, it is enough to stir only a few times and the pasta will not stick.
- Add salt to boiling water. It is necessary for pasta to have enough salt when it is cooked because salt prevents it from being slimy. But don’t worry, during cooking pasta does not bind itself to salt, such vegetable does
- Be sure to stir the pasta during cooking
- Never skim the pasta. Pasta should be cooked “al dente”.
- Never rinse pasta after cooking. Al dente pasta has the right amount of starch on the surface to bond to the sauce with which it will be served. Rinsing actually destroys that special taste of pasta.