What Is Pizza Made Of?

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on July 08, 2022
4 min read

Pizza is one of the most popular foods in the world. It’s based on a simple concept: a flatbread with toppings baked at high temperatures and eaten without utensils. The convenience and variety of topping choices make pizza a quick and easy meal.

While flatbreads and toppings existed in countries like Greece and Egypt, it was the city of Naples, Italy, that can lay claim to the origin of pizza. In the 1700 and 1800s, flatbreads baked with toppings like oil, tomatoes, cheese, and garlic were popular fare among the working classes. They were sold at inexpensive restaurants and street carts.

Pizza got a boost in popularity when the Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1861. The royal pair sampled the local fare, and the queen was enamored with the pizza topped with tomatoes, soft cheese, and basil. Her affinity for the dish led to it being renamed Pizza Margherita, which is still popular today.

Pizza remained a local specialty in Naples until the 1900s, when immigrants introduced it to America. The dish caught on, and soon, chefs were innovating with toppings and sauces. By the end of World War II, American-style pizza was a global favorite.

If you're wondering how to make pizza, it's actually fairly simple. Pizza has three main elements: crust, sauce, and toppings. All of them have a variety of preparation methods.

Crust: Traditional pizza crust is similar to bread dough. It’s a combination of flour, water, yeast, sugar, salt, and oil. The dough is mixed, kneaded, and allowed to rise. Once it’s ready, it can be pulled or rolled flat. You can find crust made with whole wheat flour, a gluten-free crust, or crust made from ingredients like cauliflower.

Sauce: A typical red cause for pizza contains tomatoes, tomato paste, water, oil, and seasonings like salt, pepper, and garlic. The ingredients are mixed and cooked until the flavors come together. It’s then spread in a thin layer over the crust. Variations on pizza sauce include white sauces, which usually as a roux base, and flavoring like garlic.

Toppings: Cheese is the classic pizza topping. Mozzarella or a combination of mozzarella and cheese like Romano and Parmesan are the most popular. Cheese is sprinkled over the crust and sauce. Additional toppings are added according to taste. Popular toppings include:

  • Pepperoni
  • Mushrooms
  • Olives
  • Peppers
  • Anchovies
  • Sausage
  • Bacon
  • Onions

The options for pizza toppings are endless, and you can order specialty pizzas with nearly any topping you like. 

Once the pizza is put together, it’s cooked in a hot oven until the crust is baked through and the cheese is melted. It’s then served hot. 

Pizza is extremely versatile, and it can be adjusted to suit any dietary preferences. The basic crust and sauce are vegan, containing no animal products at all. Toppings can be vegetarian, with dairy-based cheese but no meat. They can also be made vegan by using non-dairy cheese or no cheese. 

For people who can’t have wheat or wheat gluten, you can make or buy pizza crust that is gluten-free or made from non-wheat flour. A homemade sauce won’t contain any traces of wheat, though commercial sauces may be made in facilities that process wheat products. Check labels to be sure the sauce is gluten-free. 

Pre-made pizza is easy to find if you don’t want to make your own. There are pizza restaurants in every town and city, many of which will deliver right to your door. Grocery stores offer frozen pizzas that you can heat in your home kitchen in a few minutes. 

There is no simple way of gauging the nutrition of a pizza. If your pizza is homemade from whole ingredients, the nutritional values will be different than if you eat a pizza from a restaurant or a frozen pizza from the grocery store. The toppings on each slice will change the nutritional content as well. For example, a slice of restaurant pizza topped with vegetables will be about 240 calories. A slice with pepperoni will be about 330 calories.

If you're interested in how to make pizza healthy, also think carefully about how it’s prepared. Added oils can increase the calorie count and add unnecessary fats to the dish. Piling on extra cheese also increases calories and fats.

Pizzas with decadent toppings like sausage, pepperoni, and extra olives are delicious, but toppings like these are high in fats and sodium. Add them sparingly if you’re concerned about nutritional content. Vegetables can add complex flavors without the salt and fat. 

Pizza is a global phenomenon these days. You can get a pizza anywhere from Naples to Nairobi. Despite the ubiquity of pizza, there are some places that consider themselves the best places for a slice. 

New York City often lays claim to being the world capital for pizza. The American pizza craze started there when Italian immigrants began selling the dish in the early part of the 20th century. A big, foldable New York-style slice is what many people think of when they think of pizza.

Chicago pioneered the deep-dish style pizza, with a thick, doughy crust and layers of sauce, cheese, and toppings. It is so thick that you may even find that you want a fork to eat Chicago-style pizza.

California-style pizza is where the gourmet pizza trend got started. West Coast pizzas started offering ingredients like goat cheese, pine nuts, barbecue chicken, and bleu cheese, as well as fresh vegetables. It’s a change from the classic tomato and cheese combos that make pizza so beloved, but the flavor combinations are undeniably delicious.

No matter where you go in the world, you can probably count on finding a slice of pizza. It may offer the familiar tastes of the kind of pie you grew up eating, or it may feature local flavors that are totally new to you. Regardless, this popular dish will always make for a satisfying meal.