Do you love Italian cuisine? Then you may be intrigued by these 25 surprising facts about Italian food and cuisine!
Italian gastronomy is considered some of the best in the world and a visit to Italy simply wouldn’t be complete without at least sampling some of the country’s best local and regional dishes. Not only that, but Italy is also known for it’s incredible drinks and wines and is home to no less than 20 Italian wine regions!
Whether you’re visiting the fashionable streets of Milan, exploring historic Rome, want to visit gorgeous Florence, spend some time in Venice, plan to uncover the stunning region of Puglia, or want to savour the flavours of Northern Italian dishes you’ll be sure to stumble upon a good plate of food wherever you go.
In this guide, we decided to view Italian cuisine in a slightly different light, by focusing instead on these 25 fascinating facts about Italian foods, cuisine, drinks, and foodie traditions that you may not be aware of.
Hopefully, this post will go some way towards inspiring you to dig in and delve deeper into Italian gastronomy on your next visit to this glorious country!
- Facts About Italian Foods – Pasta
- Italian Food Facts – Pizza
- Facts on Italian Food – Italian Desserts Facts
- Oher Facts About Food In Italy
- Drinks Facts
Before you go, be sure to plan & book your Italian Travel Essentials:
- Search & Book flights here on Skyscanner
- Book your car rental through AutoEurope
- Search hotels here on Booking.com, or on VRBO for apartment-style stays
- Click here to browse & book bus and train tickets
- Lastly, don’t forget about travel insurance for your trip!
Pssst…Have you packed all your essentials? Make sure to read our European packing list post to ensure you’ve ticked all the packing necessities off your list!
Facts About Italian Foods – Pasta
There Are Over 350 Pasta Variants
When you think of Italian cuisine, you will no doubt conjure up thoughts of delectable, dreamy pasta dishes. No doubt, we all know the most famous pasta variants, such as Spaghetti, Macaroni, Fettuccine, Penne, or Fusilli, and likely have our personal favourites.
But, did you know that there are over 350 different types and shapes of pasta (some believe it to be over 600!)?! Not only that, but different pasta shapes and varieties may also have different names depending on the region.
Annual Pasta Consumption
With pasta forming pretty much a staple of Italian cuisine, it’s no surprise then that Italy leads the way in terms of annual pasta consumption per capita in the world!
According to a Food Business News article published in 2018, the average Italian consumes as much as 23.5 kg / 51.8 lb of pasta each year. That equates to a total of 1.4 million tons of pasta being consumed in Italy annually!
Spaghetti & Meatballs Is Not A Thing In Italy!
Contrary to common belief, spaghetti meatballs is not a dish you are likely to encounter while travelling around Italy. In fact, it is more likely that spaghetti and meatballs (known as Polpettes and much smaller in size) are served as completely separate courses and not eaten together.
So, where did this much-loved dish originate? It is believed that when around 4 million Italian immigrants left Italy for the US between 1880 to 1920, they found themselves with more disposable income to splurge out on food items, including meats, and so the transformation of the spaghetti & meatballs dish. Thus Spaghetti and meatballs are actually considered 100% Italian American!
Myth: Pasta Was Imported From The East
Another interesting fact about Italian food relates to how many believe pasta came to be in Italy. Despite popular belief that the famous merchant Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy after travelling to China in the 13th century, many historians argue that this is in fact incorrect.
Whilst it may ring true that Marco Polo could have introduced Chinese noodles to Italy, scholars have shown that historic poems and texts have all pointed to some form of pasta dating back to ancient Greek times.
This points to the fact that Pasta likely existed hundreds of years prior to Marco Polo’s voyage to the east.
Pasta And Olive Oil
I’m sure most of us have been guilty of this myth. Growing up my parents always added a dash of olive oil when cooking pasta with the conviction that it would prevent the pasta pieces from sticking together.
Well, as you’ve probably guessed, this is a complete myth and old wife’s tale that has no basis in chemistry and is not practised in any Italian kitchen in Italy.
Firstly, the simple fact is that water and oil don’t mix, and when boiled at the correct temperature, the pasta will naturally not stick together.
Secondly, drizzling your pasta with olive oil will coat the pasta with a thin layer which will prevent your sauce from fully absorbing the pasta.
So, be sure to steer clear of the olive oil the next time you decide to cook your favourite Italian dish!
Carbonara Does Not Contain Cream
Another of the most popular pasta exports that have found their way onto the world stage is the classic Carbonara. But whilst many outside of Italy have adapted the original recipe to include cream, almost all Italians would cringe at the thought.
Originally from Rome, the traditional carbonara consists of 5 very simple ingredients. These include spaghetti, browned guanciale cured meat, pecorino Romano cheese, beaten eggs, and black pepper. With no cream in sight!
Italian Food Facts – Pizza
Modern Day Pizza Originated In Naples
When you think of Italian cuisine, I’m almost certain that pizza will be top of mind for many. Well, another of the interesting facts about Italian food is that pizza as we’ve come to know it today originated around the start of the 19th century in Naples in southern Italy.
A quirky story on pizza is that Raffaele Esposito, a pizzamaker, also invented the humble and much-loved Margherita pizza in honour of Queen Margharita and styled in the colours of the Italian flag (basil for green, mozzarella for white, and tomato for red). Whilst many dispute that this is factually correct, it’s still a fascinating story to recount over your favourite slice of pizza!
Don’t Expect All The Toppings
There’s nothing more comforting than indulging in a hearty slice of pizza, which is probably why this delectable dish has taken the world by storm. But, another fun fact about Italian food you may not realise is that pizza in Italy is perhaps not as ‘elaborate’ compared to other parts of the world.
When travelling through Italy, don’t expect to find toppings such as salmon, bacon, chicken, or worst of all pineapple. And, whilst we’re on the topic of pizza, pepperoni pizza is also not a thing in Italy. It is said to have originated in the early 1900s in New York instead of Italy.
Italy Food Facts – The Most Expensive Pizza In The World
Fancy a bite of the most expensive pizza in the world? For that, you’ll have to travel to Salerno, Italy and cough up $12,000 to experience the famed Louis XIII Pizza, considered the most expensive in the world.
Not only does it take 72 hours to make the pizza, but you’ll be afforded a luxury pizza experience unlike any other when a personal chef and sommelier arrives at your home to create this one of a kind pizza. Accompanied with select limited-edition cutlery, a bottle of Remy Martin Cognac Louis XIII and vintage champagne, you’ll be able to bite into this over the top and one of a kind pizza that includes toppings such as caviar, shrimp, lobster, organic buffalo mozzarella, and 7 other varieties of cheese.
The Art Of Making A Neapolitan Pizza Holds UNESCO Recognition
In 2017 pizza-makers from Naples had reason to celebrate as UNESCO awarded the art of making a Neapolitan Pizza cultural heritage status, giving credibility to its importance to Italian gastronomy.
Called “pizzaiuoli”, this encompasses the process of kneading and preparing the dough, twirling the dough in the air, topping, and then baking the pizza, and has long since been a treasured tradition steeped in history.
It was even reported that when UNESCO announced the news, overjoyed pizza-makers in Naples handed out free slices of pizza to passersby in celebration of this historic recognition.
Facts on Italian Food – Italian Desserts Facts
Undoubtedly one of my all-time favourite Italian desserts is the decadent, layered Tiramisu. This delectable, “pick-me-up” (the translated meaning of the name) dessert consists of two layers of ladyfinger biscuits that have been soaked in coffee and liqueur, and then layered with mascarpone cream cheese, tantalizing your tastebuds with every textured bite.
Surprisingly, this classic Italian dessert is considered quite a modern one and is believe to have been invented only in the 1960s (or possibly even earlier), although its true origins are shrouded in a bit of mystery.
Today, the origins of Tiramisu is still a hotly contested one. Whilst some believe it originated in the 1970s in Veneto, others claim it dates to 1959 and hails from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Of course, the story gets even more colourful when you add in the claim by the Accademia del Tiramisu, that Tiramisu was actually invented much earlier in the 1800s in Treviso by a “madame” of a brothel who would serve the dessert as an aphrodisiac to the clientele.
Another famous Italian dessert is traditional Italian Gelato, considered to be one of the best ice creams in the world and has become a foodie symbol of Italy. When travelling through Italy, you’ll no doubt encounter both locals and visitors frequenting their favourite “gelaterias” to savour this delicious treat.
Interestingly, gelato isn’t made the same way that ice cream is made in other parts of the world. Gelato actually contains a much lower fat content because Italians make use of more fresh milk and less cream when making gelato compared to traditional ice creams. Because of this, gelato tends to have a much denser consistency and because of the lower fat content, the main flavours tend to be much bolder too.
If you’re on the hunt for the best gelato in the world, be sure to head to the town of Spoleto and pay a visit to Gelateria Crispini, the winner of the 2017 Gelato World Tour where Alessandro Crispini was awarded the best gelato in the world for his pistachio flavoured gelato.
For The Best Cannoli Head to Sicily
It’s perhaps no secret that the best cannoli can be found in Sicily, after all, it’s where this rich and creamy dessert hails from. For many, cannoli is the ultimate indulgent dessert, the crunchy pastry tube filled with sweet and luxurious ricotta, every bite as tantalizing as the one before.
However, once again the origins of this tasty morsel aren’t 100% clear, as facts about Italian foods go! Having originated somewhere between the years 827 and 1091 close to, or in the city of Caltanissetta. One belief is that cannoli was created by concubines whilst on the opposite spectrum, others believe it was created by nuns.
Either way, if you’re planning a visit to Sicily, you most certainly have to give cannoli a go!
Italian Christmas Cake
Being a devote Catholic nation, Italy is every bit as festive at Christmastime as you’d expect it to be. With religious festivities also comes good food and lots of celebration with family and friends.
Enter the humble Panettone, a sweetened bread that’s stuffed with crystallized fruits such as orange and raisins. Although it is firmly believed that this Italian bread originated in Milan, its origins possibly go as far back as Roman times when Romans used honey to sweeten a leavened type cake.
Today, it has become synonymous with Christmas throughout the country, although you can still find Panettone all year round too.
Oher Facts About Food In Italy
As far as Italian customs go, you’ll most likely hear diners wishing each other “Buon Appetito” before a meal, translated as “Enjoy your meal”. In response, you may reply the same, or if you really want to show off your Italian skills then, “Grazie, altrettanto”, which means “Thank you, likewise” will also work.
Italian Breakfast “Colazione”
Growing up I’ve always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But, when travelling through Italy, don’t expect a big fry up as Italian share a somewhat different view on the first meal of the day!
“Colazione”, or breakfast in Italy, is rather a lighter affair. Most Italians would typically enjoy a simple milky coffee or espresso and a pastry such as a croissant, keeping it light and simple.
Lentils Are For New Years
Next up on our fun facts about Italian food involves Lentils! Lentils are typically a popular ingredient in Italy and are eaten throughout the year. However, there is one particular time of year when this pulse takes centre stage, New Years Eve and Day.
Lentils symbolize prosperity, and as such Italians consider eating them at the start of the new year as a way to represent financial prosperity for the coming year ahead.
Don’t Expect Garlic Bread In Italy
When frequenting many Italian restaurants outside of Italy, it is not uncommon the be served a buttery slice of garlic bread as an accompaniment to your meal. This tradition, however, does not stem from traditional Italian cuisine.
Instead, the closest equivalent you can expect to see in Italian restaurants in Italy is “bruschetta”, which is a grilled slice of bread usually drizzled with a dash of olive oil and with a bit of garlic rubbed over the bread when eaten plain, and with no butter in sight.
Facts About Italian Cuisine: Tomatoes Were Imported
Next up on our facts about Italian foods may shock many. We’ve become accustomed to the fact that tomatoes are used in many Italian dishes. From tomato sauce as a base for pizza’s to their use in salads, and a myriad of pasta dishes, it’s perhaps surprising then to learn that tomatoes were in fact an import.
Tomatoes made it’s way to Europe, and then onto Italy when Spanish explorers colonized the Americas and brought it back to Europe. It was then introduced to Italy around the mid-1500s. When first introduced it didn’t immediately take off, but slowly gained in popularity over the centuries to follow, and today has become a star of Italian gastronomy.
Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the most sought after cheeses in Italy thanks to its sharp and complex flavours. Interestingly, this cheese is set to date back to the Middle Ages with it first being recorded around 1254.
It is commonly believed that when Benedictine monks in the Parma-Reggio region of Italy wanted to discover a means to increase the shelf-life of the vast amount of milk they were producing, they ended up producing this much-loved cheese as a result.
Italy Is The World’s Largest Producer Of Vinegar
Another surprising fact about Italian foods you may not know is that Italy currently holds the title as the largest producer of vinegar in the world, making up roughly 46% of all global exports of this product.
Amongst these, the most popular remains the balsamic vinegar from Modena, or the region of Reggio Emilia, which are regarded as the best in Italy.
Italian Coffee Culture
Whilst most of us wouldn’t hesitate to order a cappuccino or frappuccino any time of the day to get our coffee fix, this is a sure-fire way to stick out as a tourist when visiting Italy.
That’s because most Italian’s would only ever order milky coffee varieties such as cappuccinos or lattes for breakfast, and would rather order a smaller espresso shot throughout the rest of the day.
Indulge In Pre-Dinner Aperitivo
Aperitivo is somewhat of a cultural institution in Italy when friends, colleagues, family, or acquaintances meet up for well-deserved pre-dinner drinks and snacks after a long day of work.
Aperittivo usually takes place between 7 pm and 9 pm and is accompanied by some light snacks and popular Italian drinks such as Aperol Spritz, Campari, or even your favourite glass of wine!
The World’s Largest Wine Producer
Comprising around 350 recognised and official wine varieties produced in 20 different wine regions across the country, it’s no secret that Italians love a good glass of wine (or bottle!) at mealtime.
Another interesting fact about Italian drinks is that Italy was recognised as the world’s largest wine producer in 2020 beating France and Spain to a close second and third place respectively.
It’s perhaps no surprise then that Italy also featured in third place in terms of the countries that consumed the most wine in 2020 (being beaten only by the US and France).
The Moka Pot Was Invented In Italy
Love it or hate it, many a coffee-lover has at least once in their lifetime owned their very own Moka Pot to brew the perfect stovetop cuppa.
The quintessential Moka Pot that’s become almost synonymous with Italian coffee culture was invented in 1933 by an Italian engineer by the name of Alfonso Bialetti. To this day Bialleti Industries still produce this iconic coffee staple that has taken the coffee world by storm.