Think you know pasta? Think again. The beloved food actually has a long and complex history. At one time, it was only available to noblemen, then evolved into scraps for beggars, and today it is a popular staple around the world.
Pasta’s Twisted Past
When you hear the word pasta, you automatically think Italy. That is because the Italian country has had a passionate love affair with noodles for a very long time. Over the years, there have been many rumors and speculation where it all actually originated. One thing that is agreed, pasta was not invented in Italy. Many assumed it was created in the Mediterranean, but it most likely made its way there through trade or by nomads. Historians say it originated in Asian and Arabic countries. Greece, Africa and the Middle East also played a significant role in the early years.
It has been said many times that Marco Polo brought back pasta from China. This was somehow misconstrued from his memoir The Travels of Marco Polo. Polo had mentioned returning home with a product that comes from a tree and when worked, resembles pasta. While it probably reminded him of the favored food from his home country, it was not a new discovery by any means.
Noodles in Italy date back to times of the Etruscans and the Romans. Recipes including pasta can be traced back as far as 800 A.D., some believing it could have been as long ago as 1 A.D.
The noodles that were made early on in Italy contained the same durum wheat that is used today. They were baked in an oven, as opposed to boiling. It wasn’t until around the 1300’s that dry pasta was recognized for having a long shelf life without losing its nutritional value. Before then, many believed the dry product contained old or low quality flour, preferring to eat it only if it were freshly made. Today, there more than 300 types of pasta in Italy alone.
Recipes have changed drastically over the years, as have the flavorings. You may be surprised to find out the early recipes contained sugar and were very sweet. Some Sicilian dishes still contain things like cinnamon and raisins.
That is a stark difference from the savory sauces, aged cheeses, meats and fresh vegetables that we eat with pasta today. Tomatoes weren’t even added until the 19th century. This was when the fork became an everyday eating tool, specifically to avoid a mess while eating pasta.
Many historians do agree that the Italians were the first to mass produce pasta. The first production machines were found in Naples. This is also where the process of drying and preserving the product was perfected. The invention of tools like the press and kneading machine cut the time and cost of making pasta to a fraction, making it possible to produce in mass quantities.
The very first pasta factory was licensed and opened in the early 1700’s in the city of Venice. Large parts of Italy have the perfect climate for growing the wheat and drying the final product. This is the reason it became so amazingly popular, and has remained that way, in the region.
Today, some form of pasta can be found in virtually every culture’s diet. The possible combinations of noodles mixed with other ingredients are endless. Stores and supermarkets have entire aisles dedicated to the massive varieties of different pastas. There are manufacturing companies located around the globe to meet the astronomical worldwide demand. While its origins may be debatable, no one can deny the overwhelming popularity and longevity of our beloved pasta!