The history of pasta

There are many different stories about the beginnings of pasta.

  • A popular story is that the explorer Marco Polo was introduced to noodles during his travels in China, and that he brought the recipe back to Italy in 1292.

  • In the Middle Ages pasta was eaten by the Arabs who ruled Sicily at the time.

  • It is also believed that the ancient Romans in the 1st century AD ate pasta and that ancient Greeks ate a version of lasagne.

Whatever the real story is, pasta is certainly an ancient food. There are variations of pasta in the western world and in Asian countries.

Originally pasta was eaten freshly made, but it was soon discovered that it could be dried and stored, which was useful for long sea voyages.

Durum wheat

Ingredients for making pasta © Getty Images

Ingredients for making pasta © Getty Images

However, pasta did not become an important part of a meal in Italy until the 16th century. It was a luxury item because the special durum wheat needed had to be imported from Sicily or Puglia, which made it expensive. Until the 18th century, poorer people in Italy ate mainly vegetables. At this time the concept of large farms took hold, which led to more widespread cultivation of durum wheat. This, combined with the development of a kneading machine and press, meant there could be factory production of pasta. At last pasta became part of the daily diet in Italy, and even poor people could afford it.

Around 1770, macaroni (a type of pasta) became popular in England, so much so that the word macaroni was used to describe anything really good 'That's macaroni!' The English at that time had colonies in America, and so macaroni made its way there.

Pasta today

Today, pasta manufacture is very advanced, and machines were invented for all parts of the process. The two basic ingredients are flour, egg and water. The best pasta is made from durum wheat, specially grown for pasta. Sometimes it is combined with semolina, which is from the middle part of wheat grains. Sometimes spinach or tomato is added to the dough to add flavour and colour.

Some pasta in a few different shapes and colours. Photo©iStock

Some pasta in a few different shapes and colours. Photo©iStock

Pasta is popular all over the world, but it is the Italians who love pasta most. For nearly 400 years they kept the recipe secret, and developed over 300 shapes and a huge number of recipes.

Did you know?

There is a museum of pasta: the Museo Storico Degli Spaghetti in Pontedassio, Italy.


Watch a video about how to make simple pasta at home:

Watch a fun video showing just a few shapes that pasta is made into: