The history of pasta

Slurping up a spiral of linguine, spearing tubes of rigatoni on a fork, plucking at egg noodles with a pair of chopsticks – does a week even go by without almost all of us eating pasta in some form or other?

While its origin is much disputed – did Marco Polo really introduce pasta to Italy, after ‘discovering’ it in China? Did civilisations individually identify the benefits of mixing wheat flour with water? – you can’t argue with the comfort provided by a bowl of the stuff.

Here’s a few things you might not know about what’s in that bowl though.

1. It hasn’t always been eaten with tomato sauce
Shock horror. In fact, in its earliest forms, pasta was often eaten dry and by hand in Italy – nothing like Tony Soprano’s beloved Sunday Gravy. Pasta and tomato sauce wasn’t even a thing until the 1700s, when it first appeared in the cookbook, L’Apicio Moderno by Italian chef Francesco Leonardi. Even then it wasn’t widely eaten until the 1800s (people apparently had reservations about tomatoes being part of the nightshade family).

2. It’s been a dried convenience food since the 1100s
What kitchen cupboard is complete without a couple of packets of half-eaten dried spaghetti and fusilli? Turns out, home cooks have been using the dried stuff since the 12th century. Moroccan geographer Abu Abdullah Muhammed ibn Idris noted in a 1154 codex the production and exportation of a dried ‘string-like’ pasta from Sicily.

3. Pasta was hung like washing on a line
Well, it had to be dried somehow. As pasta production became large-scale and industrialised (at first, largely in coastal areas in Italy in the 18th century), it would need to be eaten fresh, immediately (not possible when so much was being made), or air dried – and outdoors in the heat of the sun, making use of a good sea breeze, made most sense.

4. The Italian names for a lot of pasta types will make your stomach squirm
Vermicelli – small worms. Spaghetti – strings. Orecchiette – small ears. Linguine – little tongues. It’s all a bit too literal for us.

5. In Naples, homeless people would eat arm-length strands of pasta …
… sometimes as a way to entertain tourists. Okay, this was in the 1700s; people may have had less to be amused by back then. Apparently, pasta was a popular street food at the time, and the homeless, known as lazzaroni, have been depicted in prints, eating long strands of macaroni with their hands, according to National Geographic.

6. There’s a history of pasta and noodles being kneaded by foot
If you’ve ever made your own pasta by hand, you’ll know it can be hard work when it comes to kneading. Hence why in the past, kneading pasta dough by foot was de rigueur. Udon noodles in Japan were made in the same manner, and some still follow the traditional method today.

It is thought Cesare Spadaccini, an engineer of Naples, was hired by the king of Naples, Ferdinando II in the 1800s, to invent the first mechanised pasta-making machine to replace feet. To be honest, though, using your feet to knead sounds less hassle than trying to successfully use a modern-day pasta maker.

7. The oldest bowl of noodles discovered was 4000 years old
According to Nature, in 2005 a well-preserved prehistoric sample of millet noodles was found in a sealed earthenware bowl, dating to the late-Neolithic period, at an archaeological site, Lajia, in north-western China. The discovery suggests that 4000 years ago, people were creating dough, and boiling it to eat, as we still do with pasta/noodles today.

Are you a pasta fan? What’s your favourite way to eat it?

– With PA

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Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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