I’d be hard-pressed to find a preparation of spaghetti and meatballs that I didn’t like. Slurping up those long pasta strands doused in tomato sauce is a primal experience. I’d have to credit my Italian ancestors for that, but who do they have to credit? Has spaghetti been an Italian institution since Romulus founded Rome? Or is spaghetti’s history as messy as a one-year-old’s first plate of pasta?
Who invented spaghetti?
The modern version of spaghetti comes from Italian innovation. But they were not the first people to make noodles.
There’s an apocryphal story that Marco Polo, while traveling in the 1300s, encountered dried noodles in China and brought them back to Italy. The Chinese have been making noodles since 3000 BCE, and there are records of their creation from as early as the 3rd century CE. That’s a lot of time to perfect the art of noodles, so it could make sense that Polo encountered them on his travels and brought them along. This story, however, is largely debunked.
It’s more likely Italians were introduced to a spaghetti predecessor that originated closer to home. Throughout the Mediterranean, from Greece to the Levant to Northern Africa, there are multiple accounts of a food called itrion/itrium/itriyya—flour and water combined, formed into strips, and dried. It is far more likely that Italian pasta evolved from this dish.
When was spaghetti invented?
Starting in the 13th century in Italy, there are literary references to several different kinds of pasta. Early precursors to things like ravioli, vermicelli, macaroni, and gnocchi pop up around this time and evolve throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
The first use of the word spaghetti didn’t come up until 1845. Known as “sparghetti” at the time, the word is a diminutive of the Italian word “spago,” which means thin cord.
Does this mean that spaghetti was the first pasta made into a long, thin shape? Probably not. This is just the first record of it. It’s possible it existed only as a regional variety before this larger expansion.
Where was spaghetti invented?
As we have learned, it’s extremely difficult to nail down an exact location of origin. We do, however, know where the first commercial manufacturing of spaghetti occurred. In 1740 Venice, the first license for a pasta making factory was issued. From there, an entire industry was born. Pasta companies spread throughout Italy. By 1790, records of Italian tomato sauce were found. So, even throughout the long history of pasta, it’s possible that the spaghetti with tomato sauce dish we know now is only 230 years old. Proof that you don’t have to be old to be an icon.