is pasta italian

Let’s Discuss The History Of Pasta: A Symbol of Italian Culture & Italian Cuisine



When it comes to iconic foods that define a nation’s cuisine, few dishes carry as much cultural weight and global recognition as pasta does for Italy. But is pasta truly Italian, or is this just a widely accepted myth?

In this article, I will be exploring the history and evolution of pasta, examine what sets authentic Italian pasta apart, and ultimately make a case for why this beloved food is undeniably intertwined with Italian cuisine.

PS: I am an Italian woman who grew up watching other Italian women making pasta from scratch, cooking a variety of sauces, and testing various recipes. I have been cooking for 20 years and I also run an Italian food blog (for a client). On top of that, I am backing up my answer with sources you can refer to.

What is pasta?

To answer the question ‘Is pasta Italian’, I think we should start by defining what pasta is.

Wikipedia defines pasta as follows:

Pasta is a type of food typically made from an unleavened dough of wheat flour mixed with water or eggs, and formed into sheets or other shapes, then cooked by boiling or baking.

Oxford Languages states the following:

Pasta is a dish originally from Italy consisting of dough made from durum wheat, extruded or stamped into various shapes, cooked in boiling water, and typically served with a sauce.

Now consider Wikipedia’s definition of dough:

The dough is typically made by mixing flour with a small amount of water or other liquid and sometimes includes yeast or other leavening agents, as well as ingredients such as fats or flavorings.

Italian pasta making history

I would argue that Wikipedia’s pasta definition is very close to its explanation of dough. However, as you know with dough we can make different things, including pasta, pizza, pastry, bread, dumplings, and much more. All of those things are not pasta.

In the same way as pizza dough is not the same as pasta dough, I don’t consider Chinese noodles pasta.

Based on the above, my answer to the question is pasta Italian is absolutely yes. Yet, if you were to ask me who invented the noodles, I would immediately answer that it was China.

So did Marco Polo bring pasta to Italy?

In my opinion, no he didn’t. He might have shared the idea of noodles with Italians and that surely sparked something in them, but as we will see below, pasta already existed in Italy, in a shape called lagane.

Your answer to the same question might be different, as it all depends on what pasta is to you and what you perceive as pasta.

Pasta Is Part of Italian Culture

Following my argument above, I believe that pasta is much more than flour and water, or a shape. 

While the Chinese might have invented the noodles, the Italians coined the concept of pasta. The latter ranges from pasta making to the way pasta is dressed and to Italians’ pasta eating habits.

Italians invented the pasta course

The Italians invented the Pasta Course

Pasta is not only a food in Italy but also a course by itself. Of course, that applies to the entire world today, but it’s the Italians that started it.

Wikipedia states it here:

The idea of traditional, ritualized multi-course meals dates back to at least Ancient Rome, where the meal began with the ‘gustatio’, a variety of herbs and hors d’ouvres, then continued to three main courses and finished with a dessert.

Italy is the no.1 country for pasta consumption

No country eats as much pasta as Italy does, nor has the number of pasta shapes found in Italy (over 600), and only Italy has such a vast tradition of pasta recipes.

Unione Italiana Food reported that in 2022 Italy was at the number one spot for pasta consumption (23 kg per capita yearly), followed by Tunisia (17 kg per capita yearly).

Italy has many Protected Pasta Shapes

Throughout Italy’s regions, unique local pasta shapes have been created over centuries. Some of the most iconic include pici from Tuscany, trofie from Liguria, and orecchiette from Puglia. And, just like wine or cheese, several specific Italian pasta shapes are protected by the PAT designation that certifies them as traditional food products of Italy

Pastina is the first thing Italian kids learn to eat

Pasta is a key part of Italian Identity

Tradition is a great way to describe what pasta means to Italians. It’s the country’s symbol, just like the Italian flag and our hymn. But that’s not it. For nearly every single Italian, pasta is part of their identity, their childhood, their memories but also their present and future.

This clearly explains why Italians can’t go longer than a few days not eating pasta unless they are on a diet or abroad. That’s why most Italians eat pasta every day, for lunch or dinner. And it’s also why pasta is part of every holiday and celebration, and it’s dressed for the occasion. 

Come Christmas, Easter, birthdays, dinner parties, and Sunday lunches, the simple but beloved tomato spaghetti transforms itself into baked pasta, lasagna, cannelloni, and fresh homemade pasta like ravioli and cappelletti.

Pastina is among the first solid foods that are given to toddlers learning to eat, after veggies and fruit.

That same pastina is also the comfort food that’s cooked for someone who is not feeling well.

If you’ve come across restaurants promoting themselves with pasta night events, that’s something that started in Italians’ homes. Instead of complicating dinner parties, Italians love throwing pasta night dinners, where two or three pasta dishes are cooked and enjoyed together.

History Of Pasta Timeline

History of Pasta Timeline (is pasta Italian)
History of Pasta Timeline

Below are some of the most important events in the history of pasta (source: Pasta I Musei Del Cibo).

30000 years ago – Man learns to grind

10000 years ago – Grain is discovered

4000 years ago – First granary in Egypt

35 BCLagane pasta shape is cited in an Italian book by Q. Arazio Flacco

25-220 AC – The earliest written record of noodles is found in a Chinese dictionary during the Eastern Han Dynasty

1041 ACFirst citation of macaroni found in an Italian document

1154 AC – Vermicelli noodles connected to Sicily by geographer Al-Idrisi

1200sLasagna is mentioned in Cronica di Fra Salimbene

1300s – “Gli homini di bona pasta” saying becomes common in Italy to refer to good men with ethical and honorable characteristics. 

1329 – A notarial act proves the “lasagnaro” profession in Genoa

1338 – The First Italian pasta shape written collection

1549 – Cristoforo Messibugo, a cook at the Court of Ferrara, mentions many types of pasta are enjoyed

1570Gramola pasta machine is used

1602 – Giovanni Turco mentions the regional dish “agnolotti in minestra” in his recipe book

1630 – First written depiction of tagliatelle in La Difesa dell’Adone by Girolamo Aleandri

1665Professor Grimaldi discovers gluten

1789 – US President Thomas Jefferson ordered a pasta making machine from Naples

1827 – Buitoni pasta company is founded

1837Pasta is dressed with tomato for the first time

1969 – Barilla opens the largest pasta making establishment in the world

The above events reinforce the argument of pasta being Italian. While the first granary might have been Egyptian, and the first noodle shaped “pasta” might have been invented in China, other formats were already available in Italy, and it’s in Italy that pasta took shape into what we know it today.

Italian pasta making is special

What’s So Special About Italian Pasta?

The Ingredients

What sets Italian pasta apart is the premium durum wheat and meticulous production methods that enhance its flavor and texture when cooked. 

The semolina milled from Italy’s durum wheat has very high protein and gluten content compared to other varieties. This gives the pasta better structural integrity to hold its shape during cooking while still being pliable enough to bite. 

The Production methods

Equally important is the pasta production process itself employed by Italian artisanal makers since the Middle Ages. This involves both bronze die molding and low-temperature drying for 24-72 hours.

The rough, porous surface of bronze-extruded and slow dyed pasta makes it easier to digest by separating the starch during cooking, yielding a less dense and gluey pasta texture.

While pasta mass production still exists in Italy, it’s not as widespread as elsewhere. Many supermarket Italian pasta brands have embraced artisanal production methods, and most Italian restaurants only serve higher quality pasta. 

This is why when foreigners come to Italy and taste Italian pasta they claim it’s not only more delicious but better tolerated. 

The Craftsmanship

It’s thanks to the combination of the use of high quality ingredients, traditional processing methods, and Italian pasta makers’ technical craftsmanship that the Italian pasta experience is so exceptional.

10 Interesting Facts About Pasta 

  1. There are over 600 different pasta shapes produced in Italy, categorized into long shapes (like spaghetti), short shapes (like penne), fresh pasta (like ravioli), and more.

  2. Pasta is rich in complex carbohydrates and protein, making it a nutritious choice. When paired with vegetables, seafood, or lean meats, it can be a healthy meal option.

  3. Italians strictly use a fork when eating pasta. It is considered improper etiquette to cut long pasta with a knife or to eat it with a spoon. Only short pasta in broth can be eaten with a spoon.

  4. Pasta in Italy is served as a first course and not combined with bread or main course. They are just two different courses, and it’s culinary sacrilege to mix them.

  5. While pasta is intrinsically Italian, one popular “Italian” pasta dish – spaghetti and meatballs – was likely invented by Italian immigrants in the US.

  6. In the 1930s, Mussolini banned pasta for a short time after being influenced by the Futurist movement led by Marinetti, which shunned traditional cuisine. This unpopular decision didn’t last long.

  7. Pasta may have originally been eaten using one’s hands before eventually being twirled onto forks over time. And early pasta dough was kneaded using feet rather than modern machinery!

  8. One of the first known types of pasta eaten in Italy was lagane – a thick, short shape often broken up and served in soups. It resembled wide tagliatelle.

  9. Tortellini and Tortelli are often confused but are distinct. Tortellini are navel shaped, while tortelli are larger square shaped, sometimes also rounded. 

  10. Italy doesn’t produce enough durum wheat to meet internal demand, importing 30-40% of the high protein North American durum used by pasta makers.

10 Italian Pasta Recipes Everyone Should Try

  1. Spaghetti with Real Italian Tomato Sauce – made with quality Italian tomatoes, garlic or onion, and basil.
  2. Spaghetti Aglio e Olio – spaghetti tossed in olive oil and garlic showcasing high quality ingredients at their purest.
  3. Spaghetti Carbonara – spaghetti coated in a velvety emulsion of eggs, guanciale pork, cheese, and black pepper.
  4. Tagliatelle with Meat Ragù – flat tagliatelle noodle ribbons bathed in a slow-simmered meat ragu sauce.
  5. Lasagna Bolognese – layers of pasta topped with meat ragu and bechamel sauce and sprinkled with grated parmesan.
  6. Gnocchi alla Sorrentina – fluffy gnocchi dumplings dressed in fragrant basil pesto from the Genoa region. Learn more about Italian gnocchi here.
  7. Cappelletti in Brodo – petite stuffed pasta pockets swimming in steaming homemade meat broth.
  8. Spaghetti Al Nero di Seppie – spaghetti tinted black with savory inky squid ink with seafood accents.
  9. Pasta e Fagioli – a peasant-style soup of beans and small pasta shapes like ditalini or tubetti.
  10. Pasta con Panna, Funghi, Piselli e Pancetta – a rich, creamy white sauce pasta cooked with mushrooms, peas, and smoky bacon.

Final Thoughts On The Origins Of Pasta

If you were to ask me, I would reply: yes, pasta is indeed Italian because not all noodle-like foods are pasta, and neither are they called that. While early noodle variations can be traced to other regions, the development and mastery of pasta as a distinct culinary art form is undeniably Italian in origin.

From the meticulous selection of durum wheat and artisanal production methods to the reverence for tradition and regional specialties, pasta embodies the passion and pride that Italians have brought to this iconic dish over centuries.

If you enjoy reading about Italian food, check out these other articles:
Top 10 Italian Foods
Italian Chocolate
Italian Candies
Italian Cookie Names
Sicilian Food

or browse the Food Category and choose your own.

FAQ: Pasta In Italy

Who invented pasta China or Italy? 

Noodles were likely first invented in China, but Italians codified pasta into its modern forms, production methods, and cultural significance.

Is spaghetti Italian or French?

Spaghetti is an Italian pasta shape, with its origins tracing back to Sicily and Naples.

What did Italians eat before pasta?

While early pasta variations like lagane were consumed in Italy as early as ancient Roman times around 1st century BC, before pasta’s widespread popularity, Italian cuisine featured foods like bread, grains, vegetables, cheese, and cured meats.

Why don’t Italians eat meat with pasta?

In Italian tradition, pasta is treated as its own course, separate from meat-based main courses.  Combining them is considered a culinary sacrilege.

Why is it rude to cut pasta in Italy?

Cutting long pasta shapes like spaghetti is considered poor etiquette in Italy. The proper way is to twirl it with a fork.

Why was pasta almost banned in Italy? 

In the 1930s, Mussolini briefly banned pasta after being influenced by the Futurist movement that rejected traditional Italian cuisine, though this was unpopular.

What is the spaghetti rule in Italy?

The “spaghetti rule” refers to the Italian etiquette of not cutting spaghetti with a knife and eating it by twirling onto a fork.

Why can I eat pasta in Europe but not US?

Artisanal Italian pasta uses higher quality durum wheat and slower drying methods that make it more digestible compared to mass-produced pasta.  

Why does pasta taste different in Italy?

The use of premium durum wheat, bronze die extrusion, and very slow air-drying produces an exceptional pasta texture and flavor profile.

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