Pizzas are round primarily because as you spin pizza dough the centrifugal force naturally stretches the dough in a round shape. We like to have a crust on our pizza so as you knead the pizza dough a professional pizza chef creates an edge (an area of thicker dough) around the outside of the pizza base as he shapes it. He then spins the pizza in the air to help stretch the dough and the centrifugal force assists him in this process. The round shape happens naturally. A circular shape also aides in the efficiency of pizza making. Its easier and quicker to cut into equal pieces both as pizza dough and as a cooked pizza. This helps the chef make pizzas at a much quicker pace.
Have a look at the video below which shows how a pizza chef initially shapes a pizza dough ball with his fingers and hands. Then to stretch the dough to the right thickness he throws it in the air whilst spinning it. The centrifugal forces cause the circle shaped dough to get bigger.
You can also achieve a similar result by using a method called hand slapping. you can see and an example of this in the video below.
Obviously pizzas do come in other shapes. Rectangles or square pizzas and calzone (folded pizza) being the most common pizza shape other than round. The neapolitan pizza is today considered to be one of history’s early classic pizzas. Interestingly the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana or True Neapolitan Pizza Association state that a true neapolitan must be at least 13.7 inches in diameter. Therefore to make a true neapolitan pizza it must be round as set out by their rules.
Why Is Pizza Cut Into Triangles?
So why are pizzas round but then cut into triangles I hear you say! Well again the shape of a round pizza makes cutting it into equal pieces quicker by doing straight cuts across the the pizza. Imagine how much longer it would take to cut a pizza into equal round shapes. With a circular pizza cutter the chef can divide a pizza into equal parts with 3 to 4 quick cutting motions across the pizza.
When Did Pizza Become Round?
Historic references to pizza like foods date back to the 7 century BC but these speak more of flat breads with toppings. In 16th-century Italy a flatbread was commonly referred to as a pizza. it was primarily a dish for the poor. It was sold in the street for a long time as opposed to being made in kitchens at home.
Its very difficult to pin down an exact time when they became round. A lot really depends on the definition of a pizza. Baked flat breads with different toppings combined with cheese date back to ancient times. Would you classify these as pizzas? These flat breads would often be round or oval shaped. No doubt over time these evolved to become the pizza we know and love today.
Why Are Pizza Boxes Not Circular?
As most of you know if you order a pizza for delivery they come in a square box. Why would you not make the box the shape of pizza? Square boxes for round pizzas? Surely it makes more sense to have round boxes? Well the problem with a round box lies mainly in the ease of construction. A circular shape is much harder to make. It is much easier to make square boxes. As a direct result square boxes cost less. A square box essentially means a lower cost of doing business for any commercial pizzeria. A square box also has some other advantages. They can be supplied flat packed but are easy to construct. Square boxes are easier to stack together. All in all despite the fact pizzas are round a square boxes just make more sense. A round box or even circular shape storage container is therefore rare. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen square pizzas delivered but I guess for them square boxes are perfect.
So basically the square box is lowest cost box and therefore became the most popular. An essential item for the commercial pizzeria but ultimately a disposable one. Low cost was always going to win out here. Who wants to pay a lot of money for a throw away item that you have to give away for free with your product?
Who Invented Round Pizza?
A man called Raffaele Esposito from Naples is someone who is often credited with inventing the round pizza as we know it today. However its difficult to really give it to anyone individual. As we said above round flat breads with different toppings date back to the 16th century in Italy. If we consider flat breads then you can go back even further in the middle east. The ancient Egyptians baked flat breads in mud ovens. The key to who should really get credit for inventing round pizza relies heavily on how you define pizza.
For many the flat breads of old only go so far. If you asked anyone today to describe a pizza to you then they would most likely say its a round airy baked flat bread with a tomato sauce base and topped with mozzarella cheese and a variety of different topping options.
That being the case you would have to conclude that pizza as we know it couldn’t have come about until the Europeans came into contact with tomatoes in the 16th Century. Initially however tomatoes were treated as poisonous by our European relatives. This was because they are part of the nightshade family of fruits which at the time were already known to have some poisonous members. By the 18th century it had become common for the poor living in and around Naples to add tomatoes to their flat breads. This eventually because somewhat of a tourist attraction amongst people traveling into Naples and it began to spread to other areas.
For me a pizza needs that tomato element so so I would credit the 18th century Neapolitans for inventing it of which of course Raffaele was one. Was he the first? I think its impossible to say for sure.