Pasta History

Pasta’s origin is a complex story with lots of myths and contradictions. Greek mythology narrates that Hephaestos (Vulcan) created a tool that made “shoe laces from dough”. Pasta’s roots are lost in the centuries, given that ancient Greeks and Romans prepared dishes which looked very much like contemporary spaghetti, but differed in that they were baked and not boiled. However, their basic ingredients, wheat and water, are so common that it is hard to attribute to them a single origin. The name “macaroni” derives possibly from the Greek word ‘makaria’ (blessing). Indeed, it is a well-known fact that the ancient Greeks prepared dried foodstuffs made of flour which were left together with oil and wine on the graves of the dead (the blessed). According to a different version the word “macaroni” may be derived from the Latin word “amaccare” (= cut). In Byzantium pasta was served as a dessert with honey and cinnamon. Successors of this gastronomic habit are the Christmas cookies “melomakarona” (honey-macaroni). The well-known legend that macaroni were brought by Marco Polo upon his return from the Far East in the 13th century has been already rejected by the scholars. The first reference for the existence of pasta dates back to 1000 BC, in ancient Greece where the word “laganon” was used for a wide flat dough made of water and flour which was cut in stripes. This pastry was transferred to Italy from the first Greek settlers around the 8th century BC, and was renamed “laganum” in Latin, the contemporary lasagna. This fact is certified by Latin writers, as Cicero, Horace as well as the famous gourmand Apicius, who, in, arguably, the first complete cooking collection in history describes royal meals with “laganum”. However, the first tangible proof for the existence of pasta were the findings discovered in the frescoes in an Etruscan settlement North of Rome dated back to the 4th century BC, where various utensils for boiling water were depicted, together with a surface for mixing water with flour, a cylindrical rolling pin and a cutting tool, similar to the one we use today for cutting the pasta. Unquestionably, pasta existed in ancient China, as well as in the Arab world, since written references were found in Medieval texts of Islam for a kind of pasta called “rishta”. What is still unknown is whether they pre-dated the Greek version. A tradition goes that Arabs were baking macaroni and that this recipe was taken by Greeks who travelled all the way to Sicilia and Naples and transferred it to the Italians. The first particular written reference of boiled noodles can be found in Jerusalem Talmud, written in Aramaic and dates back to the 5th century AD. When in the 9th century Sicily was conquered by the Saracens, they also transferred their nutritional habits, which included pasta. In 12th century texts can be found a reference to the production of a kind of spaghetti in Palermo, called “itria”, a word which means shoe laces in Persian. This certain kind is still produced in Sicily and is called “trii”. The first complete pasta recipe has been recorded in the mid-15th century, in the book of the cook Martino da Como, while later on, we meet pasta in the texts of Bartolomeo Sacchi, who narrates that pasta should be boiled for as much time it takes to chant the “Pater Noster” prayer three times. Despite the fact that macaroni manufacture was commercialized as early as the 15th century, it was not until the 17th century that pasta acquired a central spot in peoples’ nutritional habits, while before then it was only consumed as a luxury meal or sweet. It was in the 18th century when macaroni met their great boom. In 1700 some 60 shops operated inNaples that were selling pasta; their number reached280 in 1785. Naples’ climate was ideal for the proper drying of pasta which was spread over wooden rods in every corner of the city to dry under the sun. Goethe in his diary, Trip to Italy (from 1787) defines spaghetti as “fine dough made of thin semolina, delicately processed, boiled and cut in various shapes”. By then the dough mixture was made by foot, a procedure similar to the pressing of grapes, until King Ferdinand II assigned Cesare Spadaccini with constructing the first mechanic treadle made of copper. Soon, the first spaghetti industries began to operate. At that time, spaghetti was mostly combined with pepper and cheese and was eaten with the fingers. Upon the import of the tomato from the New World, around 1800, the first tomato sauces for spaghetti started appearing, which were boiled with salt and basil and soon four teeth forks were put into use in order to transfer spaghetti from the plate to the mouth with fewer losses. The whole procedure of pasta production started being automatized around the end of the 19th century and began spreading, not only all over Italy but also all over the world. As a result we can speak about the Pasta Industry. Today, pasta constitutes one of the basic foodstuffs of many peoples throughout the globe; people from different cultural backgrounds enjoy the famous traditional recipes but also thousands of versions, adjusted for the particularities, taste and culture of every country. Read more on the history of Greek pasta