Pasta Is Not Originally from Italy

Myth: Pasta originally comes from Italy.

Worldwide, pasta has become synonymous with Italian cuisine. Italian immigrants themselves brought pasta everywhere they went. While it is true that the most famous varieties and recipes of cooking pasta really do come from Italy, surprisingly, the actual origin of pasta lies elsewhere!

So how did pasta make its way to Italy? One of the more popular theories was published in the ‘Macaroni Journal’ by the Association of Food Industries. It states that pasta was brought to Italy by Marco Polo via China. Polo ventured to China in the time of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and the Chinese had been consuming noodles as early as 3000 B.C. in the Qinghai province. There is even some evidence there of 4,000-year-old noodles made from foxtail and broomcorn millet.

Unfortunately, there are problems with this theory, least of which is that the noodles they were making in China aren’t technically considered pasta. Polo also described Chinese noodles as being like “lagana”, which implies he was possibly already familiar with a pasta-like food before going to China. Further, in 1279, there was a Genoese soldier that listed in the inventory of his estate a basket of dried pasta. Polo didn’t come back from China until 1295. For those who don’t know, Genoa is a sea port in Italy. Further, the modern pasta like we know it was first described in 1154 by an Arab geographer, Idrisi, as being common in Sicily. So Marco Polo could not have brought pasta to Italy via China. It was already in Italy at that time.

So how did it get there? Most food historians believe that Arabs (specifically from Libya) are to be credited for bringing pasta, along with spinach, eggplant and sugar cane, to the Mediterranean basin. In the Talmud, written in Aramaic in the 5th century AD, there is a reference to pasta being cooked by boiling. It is thought, then, that pasta was introduced to Italy during the Arab conquests of Sicily in the 9th century AD, which had the interesting side effect of drastically influencing the region’s cuisine. It also known that by the 12th century, the Italians had learned from the Arabs methods for drying pasta to preserve it while traveling. Further support for this theory can be found by the fact that, in many old Sicilian pasta recipes, there are Arab gastronomic introductions.

Bonus Facts:

  • An alternative theory that has fallen out of favor is that pasta came to Italy via Greece, given that the origins of the name “pasta” seems to be Greek. The word ‘pasta’ itself comes from the Latin ‘pasta’ meaning ‘dough, pastry cake’ which probably came from the Greek word ‘pastos’ – ‘sprinkled with salt’, ‘salted’. Also, in ancient Greek mythology, there is a tale about the god Vulcan pushing dough through a device that converts it into thin, edible threads.
  • The first documented case of a ‘macaroni’ machine being brought to the U.S. is believed to have been brought by Thomas Jefferson in 1789 when he came back to the U.S. after serving as an ambassador to France. Later, Jefferson also invented his own pasta machine.
  • Dried pasta is shaped in a variety of ways to fit various types of sauces. Thin and long pasta suits oily, more liquid sauces, and more complicated shapes are better for thicker, chunkier sauces.
  • The modern word ‘macaroni’ derives from the Sicilian term for making dough forcefully. At that time, pasta dough was often kneaded with the feet for a significant amount of time.
  • Italian pasta enthusiasts organized a World Pasta Conference in 1995, they celebrate Word Pasta Day every year in October, since 1998. There is also an Italian Pasta Association and a Pasta Museum in Rome.
  • Pasta is a term for foods made from an unleavened dough of wheat or buckwheat flour and water. There are two main groups of pasta – fresh and dried. Dry pasta is typically made from durum wheat flour or durum wheat semolina which has high levels of gluten, which gives it the yellow color and also makes the dough easier to work with.
  • The first industrial pasta factory in the US was built in Brooklyn in 1848 by a Frenchman.

Expand for References:

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  • Italians developed pasta made from semolina flour independent of chinese noodles which use buckwheat or rice flour. I think they had a third flour available considering some northern chinese grew wheat instead of rice. According to Malcolm Gladwell.

    • Africans introduced pasta to italy,
      The Moors are Africans , so sad that people are still so evil racism , Africans also civilized western Europe a fact also they hate to admit, Egyptians who also are Africans taught the Greeks , Greeks
      Traveled to Egypt to learn from them ,still do not want tell or admit the truth!!!!!!

  • Greek Myth Fanatic

    Referring to the bonus fact about possible Greek origins, ‘Also, in ancient Greek mythology, there is a tale about the god Vulcan pushing dough through a device that converts it into thin, edible threads.’, I would just like to point out that Vulcan wasn’t the Greek gods name or form. His Greek name was in fact Hephaestus.

  • “the Chinese had been consuming noodles as early as 3000 B.C. in the Qinghai province. ” Qinghai is a part of Tibet, not China. There was no China back in 3000 B.C. Tibet, East Turkestan, Zhuang, Manchuria, and Southern Mongolia are NOT part of China. Noodles didn’t originate in Asia for sure.

  • Pasta did come from Italy, it was not invented in China, and this is the biggest mistake that people do. If you are Italian, you know the truth. Noodles(that are not pasta, and have no common taste like it) have been brought to Italy, from Marco Polo. Italians got a WAY different idea of how to make it, and made it way better.

  • Pasta is not from China, NOR from “Italy” which did not exist as a nation until long after Marco Polo.

    Sicily was a distinct nation seven hundred and thirty-one years before the present nation of Italy existed. Ruggieró II’s kingdom was then known simply as ‘il Regnu’ (the Kingdom). References here to the Sicilia of this time therefore include Napoli, which was part of the Kingdom of Sicily, and was ruled from the capital at Palermo. Ruggieró II supported numerous scholarly projects, including the Saracen scholar al Idrisi’s Book of Roger, considered one of the greatest geographical achievements of the Middle Ages. One concept espoused by the book was that ‘the Earth is round like a ball’: a revolutionary idea at the time. Men of letters from many lands were always welcome at court.

    Another fallacy put to the lie by al-Isidri is that “Italy” invented macaroni, after noodles were brought back from China in 1295 AD by Marco Polo. But the earliest evidence of a true macaroni occurred at the juncture of medieval Sicilian, Italian, and Arab cultures. In his Book of Roger, completed in 1154, al-Idrisi referred to Sicilian vermicelli nearly a hundred and fifty years before Polo returned from China. This twelfth-century Sicilian pasta, the earliest clear Western reference to macaroni, was exported to Calabria, and commercial contracts from Genoa between 1157 and 1160, recorded by the notary Giovanni Scriba, show large imports of Sicilian pasta.

    • Thomas Reinertsen Berg

      It wasn’t a revolutionary idea to propose that the earth was round in al Idrisi’s time. That was already old knowledge when Aristotle wrote about it.

  • Bravo Angelo Coniglio,
    All your facts are true as far as they go.
    The vermicelli introduced by the Saracens were made from Duram wheat, which is more difficult to work with than soft wheat. Soft wheat was used to make a type of pasta from before Roman times. There is evidence that the Etruscans made pasta.

    The advantage of using Durum wheat (grana duro) is it’s SHELF LIFE! Home made pasta made from softer wheat can’t be used after a day or so after it is made: it simply falls apart an rots!

    The pasta made from Semolina, which is derived from Durum wheat can last and last.
    The dried pasta made from Semolina has made pasta the principal product of modern Italian cuisine!

    The Genovese merchants brought this pasta from the port of Palermo to all their ports of trade in the Mediterranean!

  • Yeah! It was! The Romans had la type of lasagna and pizza, among other pasta dishes.

    • “Early in 1154, shortly before the death of Sicily’s monarch, King Roger II, and about a century before the birth of Marco Polo, a court chronicler and geographer named Abu Abdullah Mohammed al Edrisi (or Idrisi) completed a detailed geographical survey of Sicily. It is to Edrisi that we owe much of our knowledge of the micro economy and social customs of twelfth-century Sicily. Little is known of Edrisi himself, except that he was born in northwestern Africa and educated in Spain. He appears to have known the Muslim Mediterranean well. Edrisi arrived at Palermo in 1139, and was soon commissioned to research a work of global geography”

      Live with it 😀

      • It took the muslims hundreds of years and repeated attempts to capture Sicily, and we took it back after about 30. Live with it.

  • A casual observation in the Book of Roger mentions that in the Sicilian town of Trabia the inhabitants made a form of pasta from hard wheat, and that this product, shaped into long strands, was manufactured in large quantity for export to other regions. Edrisi does not speculate about the origin of this “spaghetti,” but the fact that he considers it noteworthy, and that it was widely exported to a thriving market, may indicate that it was not known outside Sicily at that time –at least not in the Mediterranean. In those days, hard wheat of the African variety probably was not raised in the more humid northern regions of Europe, yet Edrisi wrote about England, Scandinavia and Russia, describing (albeit possibly based on secondhand knowledge) England’s rainy weather and Scandinavia’s seasonal endless days and nights.

  • It’s funny to see everyone getting butthurt over the origins of pasta.

  • The pasta made in China doesn’t have the same ingredients of Italian pasta, they don’t use parmesan cheese ( from parma) and the large variety of sauce that comes on a pasta dish is italian, marinara, tomato and basil, 4 cheese, amatriciana, etc , so why even compare? Just because 2 things can look similar doesn’t mean they are the same..

  • Tha is absolutely not true, Marco Polo was born much later than the first historical records mentioning pasta which was in Sicily

  • Face it…spaghetti was originated at the Olive Garden!

  • Who cares?! As long as I get to eat a delicious meal it doesn’t matter whether its from Greece or Italy or China or Rome!

  • Bro im eating some spinach fettuccini carbonara right now and fuccin hell its so good. Searching about past while I eat pasta cause i like pasta ya feel me?

    got a reall mad hard on atm

  • An angry Sardinian

    This got me pretty mad??

    (The idea of) noodles were invented in China, yeah sure.

    But pasta, the DISH, with the noodles made differently and SAUCE, is Italian.

    That’s like saying kit kats are from south America, just because chocolate originated there and no in the US like kit kats did.

  • Kit Kat is a chocolate-covered wafer bar confection created by Rowntree’s of York, United Kingdom, and is now produced globally by Nestlé, which acquired Rowntree in 1988 and closed it in 2006,[1] with the exception of the United States, where it is made under license by H.B. Reese Candy Company, a division of The Hershey Company. (per Wikipedia)

  • Noodles may have come from Asia, but the most important ingredient of pasta is the sauce. Until Italians added the sauce, they were just noodles!

  • This is all very interesting. Jackson you are correct about Kit Kat.
    Yorkshire Pudding really was invented in Yorkshire, a county in England. Nothing to do with pasta, just thought I’d through it in with the mix.

  • for the origin of the pasta you can back to neolithic age 8000 a.C. when humans start the cultivation of cereals that soon learned to grind, knead and cookit with hot water.

  • Galen mentioned “itrion” in the 2nd century AD. That was at the height of the Roman Empire. The Arabs only came to Libya in the 7th century. If anything, the Romans and Greeks brought pasta to the Middle East.

  • And, where do you think the Arabs got it from? Along with their silks?