What Is Neapolitan Pizza? | A Delicious Introduction

Dive into the heart of Italian culinary tradition with our exploration titled “What is Neapolitan Pizza” where we unravel the heritage, craftsmanship, and unique characteristics that define this iconic dish. Originating from Naples, Italy, Neapolitan pizza is not just food; it’s a testament to centuries of culinary culture, an emblem of simplicity and quality, and a subject of passionate dedication. This article aims to peel back the layers of history, technique, and ingredients that come together to create the authentic Neapolitan pizza experience.

Our exploration doesn’t just stop at the hows and whats; it seeks to immerse you in the why – why Neapolitan pizza has garnered UNESCO recognition as an intangible cultural heritage, why it continues to inspire pizza makers around the globe, and why understanding its roots can enhance your appreciation for this culinary masterpiece.

What Is Neapolitan Pizza?

First, we will explore the answer to the question “What Is Neapolitan Pizza?”. Neapolitan pizza holds a unique and significant place in the global pizza phenomenon. As the original pizza, Neapolitan pizza is considered the standard by which all other pizza styles are judged and the foundation of pizza culture worldwide.

Neapolitan pizza is more than a dish – it represents a culinary tradition codified in law and protected as part of Italy’s cultural heritage. Its recipes, ingredients, and baking methods are safeguarded to preserve the authenticity of this iconic food.

Beyond its cultural importance, Neapolitan pizza occupies a special place in the hearts and taste buds of pizza lovers globally. Its light and airy crust, tangy San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil captures the essence of Italian cuisine.

The Historical Roots of Neapolitan Pizza

Neapolitan pizza traces its origins in the working class neighborhoods of Naples, Italy. The exact beginnings are uncertain, but evidence suggests primitive forms of pizza existed in the 1500s to 1600s. Archaeological findings indicate that street peddlers in Naples sold flatbreads topped with olive oil and herbs centuries ago.

16th-18th centuries

  • Flatbreads with olive oil and herbs sold by street vendors in Naples emerge as forerunners to modern pizza.

Late 18th century

  • Baker Raffaele Esposito from Pizzeria Brandi is credited with creating the classic Pizza Margherita, named for Queen Margherita, in 1889. The pizza’s red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil) represented the Italian flag.

19th century

  • Early pizzerias open in Naples, often serving working class Neapolitans. The dish gains popularity.
  • Bakers begin using yeast and focaccia-style doughs rather than traditional bread doughs.
  • Wood-fired brick ovens emerge as the gold standard for baking pizzas.

20th century

  • Immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brings pizza from Naples to America. Neapolitan pizza influences early American pizza styles.
  • Use of mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) increases as does pizza consumption in Naples and Italy.
  • After World War II, Allied troops exposed to pizza in Italy help fuel its growing popularity worldwide.

21st century

  • In 2004, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association) codifies strict standards for Neapolitan pizza.
  • UNESCO grants Neapolitan pizza Traditional Specialty Guaranteed status in the European Union in 2009.
  • Neapolitan pizza making receives UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage designation in 2017.

The Craft Behind Neapolitan Pizza

Neapolitan pizza baking is an artisan craft honed over generations and guided today by strict traditional standards.

Certification and Standards

The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) sets guidelines protecting the tradition of Neapolitan pizza:

  • Dough must be hand-kneaded and undergo slow fermentation for 6-12 hours.
  • Only wood-fired ovens at 905°F may be used, with pizza baked 60-90 seconds.
  • San Marzano tomatoes, sea salt, mozzarella di bufala, basil, and olive oil are designated ingredients.

The European Union also safeguards Neapolitan pizza with Protected Designation of Origin status.

Techniques and Training

Mastering Neapolitan pizza requires extensive training and skill:

  • Extensive kneading technique to develop elastic dough.
  • Learning proper pizza stretching technique.
  • Managing the blistering heat of a wood-fired oven.
  • Coordinating toppings and monitoring baking.
  • Developing an intuition for the perfect bake.

Ingredients and Preparation

Ingredients also impact the Neapolitan pizza making process:

  • High protein flour with W260-380 rating is required, giving a softer dough.
  • San Marzano tomatoes give the sweet, low acid taste signature to Neapolitan red pizzas.
  • Mozzarella di bufala has a softer curd and higher moisture content perfect for pizza.
  • Pizza is always cooked in a wood-fired brick oven fired to over 900°F.

Neapolitan Pizza: A Cultural Emblem

Beyond a dish, Neapolitan pizza embodies Italian cultural heritage.

UNESCO Recognition

In 2017, the art of Neapolitan pizza making joined UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity. The designation recognizes the culture, community, and craft behind Neapolitan pizza.

Geographical Indication Status

The European Union protects the Neapolitan pizza tradition via its Protected Designation of Origin certification. Only members of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana may use the label.

Community and Social Gatherings

Eating pizza in pizzerias is intricately linked to Italian social life. Neapolitan pizza is preeminent in fostering community:

  • Multi-generational families chatting over pizza at their neighborhood pizzeria.
  • Football fans enjoying pizza while watching matches with friends.
  • Workers stopping for quick slices at tiny pizzerias.
  • Pizzerias as open and egalitarian community hubs in Italy.

This spirit now infuses pizza culture worldwide.

Variations and Innovations

Variations and Innovations

Despite codified traditions, Neapolitan pizza retains flexibility allowing for innovations.

Traditional vs. Neo-Neapolitan


  • Strict adherence to VPN standards.
  • San Marzano tomatoes and fior di latte mozzarella.


  • More flexibility in ingredients and preparation.
  • Use of all types of tomatoes, other cheese.


  • Increasing demand for plant-based and gluten-free Neapolitan pizzas.
  • Innovation in doughs and cheese while retaining traditional techniques.


  • Taking advantage of seasonal ingredients like zucchini blossoms, wild greens, or tender garlic shoots.
  • Reflecting regional differences across Italy in Neapolitan pizza interpretations.

Neapolitan vs. The World: Comparative Insights

Though the original, Neapolitan pizza differs substantially from the major pizza styles that emerged after:


  • Thin, soft crust
  • Blistered cornicione
  • Minimal toppings
  • Wood-fired oven
  • 1 minute bake

New York

  • Large hand-tossed crust
  • Crisp undercarriage
  • Generous toppings
  • Coal/gas oven
  • 8-10 minute bake


  • Non-traditional doughs
  • Adventurous toppings
  • Stone deck ovens
  • Fusion of styles

Chicago Deep Dish

  • Thick, buttery crust
  • Layered like a casserole
  • Dense, extended bake


  • More crust varieties
  • Variable topping styles
  • Electric or wood ovens
  • Regional flair

The Neapolitan style remains the foundation. Its fast, blistering bake in wood-fired ovens aligns closest to the original emergence of pizza.

The Global Journey of Neapolitan Pizza

The Neapolitan tradition seeded pizza culture worldwide, evident in the global spread of Neapolitan pizzerias.

Globalization’s Impact

  • Immigrants from Naples brought their pizza to new lands as far back as the late 1800s.
  • Post World War II rise in pizza’s popularity accelerated its global spread.
  • International trade and supply chains enabled ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala to reach global markets.
  • Modern pizzerias integrate Neapolitan style while adapting to local cultures.

Iconic Neapolitan Pizzerias Around the World

Even far from Naples, strict Neapolitan traditions thrive:

  • Italy: Da Michele, Starita, I Masanielli
  • USA: Una Pizza Napoletana, Pizzeria Bianco, Ribalta
  • Argentina: Big Mamma, Olivia
  • Japan: Seirinkan, Napule Vita

These iconic pizzerias and others authentically maintain Neapolitan pizza culture globally.

Experiencing Authentic Neapolitan Pizza

Experiencing Authentic Neapolitan Pizza

The best Neapolitan pizza balances tradition and quality. Here are tips to recognize the real thing:

Identify Genuine Neapolitan Pizza

  • Made according to AVPN standards
  • Baked 60-90 seconds in wood-fired oven
  • San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella
  • Soft, puffy crust with charred cornicione


  • Aromas of yeast and baking bread
  • Sweet and bright San Marzano tomato sauce
  • Delicate, silky fresh mozzarella
  • Light and airy crust with yeasty, complex flavors

Eating Tips

  • Fold and tear pizza slices rather than cutting
  • Eat pizza with your hands
  • Savor individual components – crust, cheese, sauce, basil
  • Pair with a dry white wine like Greco di Tufo

Sustainability and Ethical Considerations

Making Neapolitan pizza more eco-friendly aligns with its artisanal roots.

  • Local ingredients reduce transport emissions
  • Renewable oven fuels like fruitwood pellets
  • Responsible water usage
  • Fair labor practices
  • Engaging customers on sustainability

The Economic and Social Impact of Neapolitan Pizza

Neapolitan pizza generates economic opportunity while fostering social bonds:

Economic Impact

  • Over 120,000 pizzerias employ over 200,000 people in Italy alone, generating €15 billion yearly.
  • Mozzarella di bufala production and San Marzano tomatoes provide jobs and growth in southern Italy.
  • Global pizza market estimated at over $145 billion, with Neapolitan at the core.

Social Impact

  • Multi-generational pizzerias remain cornerstones of communities.
  • Pizza is an equalizer enjoyed across society without barriers.
  • Few foods bring people together to socialize like pizza.

Conclusion: What Is Neapolitan Pizza?

Neapolitan pizza represents a delicate balance between preserving centuries-old tradition and innovating for the future. This heritage continues driving the global passion for original Neapolitan pizza.

The craft, community, and culture enshrining Neapolitan pizza ensure its enduring legacy as the queen of global pizza styles.