Pasta is usually made from durum wheat flour and water. Some varieties also include eggs in the dough. But, where did pasta originate with the traditional recipe of flour, salt, and water? Most people believe that since the Italians are the largest consumers of pasta, hence, they must have been the ones to invent it. But some sources take us back to the 1st century AD and give us proof of pasta being made somewhere else in the world. Though we are familiar with various shapes of pasta, out of the 600 known shapes and recipes with different kinds of sauces, yet how it originated is still unclear. Read below to find out!
1. Evidence in History
- During the time of Augustus, there was a lyrical poet named Horace. His writings from the 1st century AD mention Lagana which were very thin sheets of dough and were consumed fried. These sheets were used in the cooking of everyday dishes.
- In the 2nd century, Aelius Galenus a Greek philosopher, surgeon, and physician in the Roman Empire mentioned Itrion in his works. They were compounds made up by mixing flour and water.
- Then from the 3rd to 5th century AD, Itrion was common in Palestine. It was kind of boiled dough. Evidence of this was found in the notes of The Jerusalem Talmud.
- A cookbook from the early 5th century mentioned Lagana or the modern-day lasagna. It consists of several layers of dough with the stuffing of meat.
So, where did pasta originate? These old records signify that Greece was the place where pasta originated.
Then, a much later record was discovered dating back to the 9th century AD, written by Isho Bar Ali, an Arab physician, and lexicographer. He mentioned in his works the word itriyya. It was made from semolina in the shape of strings that were dried before cooking. (See 7 Recipes for Fresh Tomatoes from Garden)
2. Role of Marco Polo
Marco Polo was 21 while he was on the exploration ship with Kublai Khan. He was Khan’s Foreign Emissary to India and Burma. During their visit to Asia, Marco also entered Cathay, a European historical name for China around the 12th century. He lived in the emperor’s dominions for 17 years. He spent several years in Asia and explored different countries, their traditions, culture, and food.
It is hence believed that while returning from China during the 13th century, Marco Polo brought pasta back to Europe. He is said to have brought the technique used to make pasta dough. Thereafter, he converted that dough into thin strings and cook them. It was in the east where the earliest known pasta was made from rice flour.
3. Origin of Pasta
To be more specific about where did pasta originate, it is believed to be from China. Because, in this country, people ate soft-boiled dough strings made from wheat flour, salt, and water. There are mentions about how the strings of noodles were made and hung or scattered on the roofs of the houses in China to reduce their stickiness. It was made fresh from the dough and boiled. Marco Polo took the recipe of Chinese handmade noodles and then, it was used in various countries in Europe, where Marco Polo later traveled. The dish was later transformed into Spaghetti.
4. Dry Pasta
As mentioned in the records of various travelers, dry pasta was the idea of the Arabs. They usually made the pasta strings in the same way as China, but they did not hang the strings out to dry. It turned hard just like the modern-day dried pasta and noodles. (Also read Why do Chinese people eat everything?)
5. Italian Pasta
It is believed that the word pasta was derived from an Italian word paste. The Italian pasta originated even before they were aware of the existence of China. It is mentioned that Italians already knew how to make and use pasta strings, even before Marco Polo left for his expedition towards Asia in the year 1271. It became possible because of the early trade practices carried on by traders.
An Arab geographer, Idris, describes that he came across the long strings made from dough in Sicily. It is already known that during the Middle Ages the pasta trade flourished among Sicily and Sardinia. Hence, another answer to the query of where did pasta originate could very well be Italy.
6. The Wheat Crop Story
According to the historians, in order to decide where did pasta originate, we need to check for where the source, that is wheat, was first cultivated. The climatic conditions in Italy were favorable for the growth of cereals and wheat much more than the climatic conditions of China.
Although a majority of historians believed that Arabs brought pasta with them when they expanded into southern Italy and Sicily. They brought eggplant, sugar cane, and spinach along with pasta to these nations. The Arabs also taught the pasta-making technique and how to make dry pasta from the fresh one to the Italians.
7. Cooking Technique
It is a worldwide belief that pasta should be cooked al-dente which means not fully cooked. It is advised to keep it this way because it enhances the taste and keeps us full for a long time. There is also a federal law regarding the quantity of egg in the pasta dough. Only 5.5 percent of egg solids must be present in noodles to call them a noodle. (See What are some foods that start with the letter E?)
8. Types of Ingredients in Pasta
The basic type of pasta is made from mixing wheat, water, and salt. But apart from that, with the advancement of time and as the pasta traveled in different parts of the world, the recipe was changed or altered depending upon their tastes. The other varieties of pasta can be made from using ingredients like rice, corn, bean, & barley, etc. Most dry pasta only includes flour and water as their only ingredients. (See How Are Jelly Beans Made?)
9. Miscellaneous Facts
- Before the invention of pasta-making machines, the pasta dough was kneaded with feet.
- Because of their immense love for this staple, an average person in Italy consumes more than 60 pounds (27.21 Kilograms) of pasta every year.
- In North America, pasta consumed by an average person reaches up to 15 pounds per year.
- The production of pasta in Italy reaches up to 2.75 million tons every year becoming the world’s largest producer of pasta.
- On the other hand, the United States of America has 1.9 million tons of production of pasta every year.
Despite the debate over where did pasta originate, it sure is a favorite!