The Americanization of Pasta

Introduction: Origins and background history of Pasta

Pasta as an ancient food

Pasta is one of the world’s most available types of food, with most countries at least having their own variety of pasta. Tracing the history of the food is a difficult thing to do first because during the early years of its introduction, there was little documentation available. Secondly, the world pasta translates to paste in Italian, and this makes it difficult to find exact mentions of pasta without confusing them with mentions of other commodities.1

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Looking for pasta in traditional Italian foods, and relying on the word’s translation, which is paste, forces one to review mention of dough made from combined flour and water or eggs. While this is the original form of pasta, which has existed for many centuries in Italy and other early pasta countries, it also relates to ingredients of many other pasta-like foods.

Today, macaroni generally refers to dried pasta. The name can relate to any size of pasta as long as it is made of dorum wheat flour. In other places, the same would refer to fresh pasta with additional reference for all types of dried pasta and variations such as spaghetti, bucatini and penne.2 To confirm that indeed the first recorded reference of maccherone (macaroni) indeed referred to pasta, scholars relied on the Italian language dictionaries which all confirm that indeed the world relates to the food in singular form. Use of the word refers to any instance of pasta, fresh or dried, and of any size and shape. Some dictionaries of the Italian language may however be specific enough to the type of pasta being referred to by the word ‘maccherone’.

Pasta travels from China to Arabia, to Italy, and then America traces the emergence of pasta

Modern day descriptions of pasta mainly relate to the traditional Italian meal that consists of noodles that is notably different from other noodle foods available around the world, mainly in Asian countries. In fact, the noodles available in the larger Asian region were believed to have been copied and presented to the European region by Marco Polo in the 13th century when he returned to Italy.3 This belief mainly comes from Polo’s records on foods and drinks of the Mongols and Chinese. In the records, he mentions rice, Panicum, millet, wheat, vermicelli and pastas, fermented mare’s milk and rice wine.

As described earlier, tracing the history of pasta is hard, because of a lack of definite documentation of the food in the early years of its discovery and production. Evidence presented by Hans4 shows than indeed Marco Polo was in China, but it does not remove the doubt that he might have not been the originator of pasta in Italy. His descriptions of the material life and economic and monetary conditions in China are almost accurate. During the years of Marco Polo’s exploration in China, the Western World adopted so many innovations from the country, and it is not surprising to find out the myth that pasta must have also originated from the country.

However, evidence to show that pasta did not originally come from China relies on documentation, which shows that the food was reported in Europe, precisely in Italy, before 1295, when the veteran explorer came back from his 20-year trip. A legal document dated 1279 shows that a soldier named Ponzio Bastone possessed a basket filled with macaroni.5

Nevertheless, the geographic origin of macaroni is Naples. The mention of ‘macaroni eaters’ as a reference phrase occurred mainly in the 1500s when the French mocked the Italians. It was used originally by a Neapolitan for a Sicilian who was answering that the former was a ‘leaf eater’. After facing economic hardships created by the Spanish, the Neapolitans had to abandon their preferred food, which was a broth containing many leaves and a few pieces of meat. They instead adopted ‘maccheroni’, and other sources of carbohydrates.6

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Paleo-agronomists who aim to reconstruct the agriculture and diet of ancient times do not offer a defined attribution of pasta’s origin. Nevertheless, they first place it in the anecdotal culinary history of ancient Rome as well as Arabia.7 Other mentions of geographic originals are China and Etruria.

Another historical account shows how Chau Ju-kua, a journeyman from China, was surprised by dorum wheat in Muslin Spain in the 1100s. This account puts doubt to the earlier statements showing that pasta was originally from China. However, it does not absolutely refute it. The journey man was surprised by the existence of what seemed like commercial farming of wheat. For example, he was amazed by the ability to store wheat in granaries, and remarked how that would make the Chinese not go hungry.

Later on in 1150, another historical encounter, a geographer Al-Sharif al-Idrisi mentions that Sicily supplied the Italian and Arabian lands with pasta. During the time, there were also other several mentions of pasta. For example, the Tuscan menu that survived 1188 and it included a dish similar to macaroni.8 More strings of dried pasta are reported in Genoa in 1244 and another notarized paper is the one that puts Ponzio Bastono in 1279.9 It is from this early 12th century evidence that this paper will go with the assumption that pasta was originally an Italian invention, though not in its present form.

Another interesting tit bit to note is that 900 years before Marco Polo, there was mention of pasta by a Chinese poet. The poet mentioned ‘bing’, which was a cereal-based food. It was stretched out with water just like pasta and its malleability are the characteristic of fresh pasta. The ‘bing’ mention did not relate anyway to dorum wheat, so it may not qualify as pasta in the modern sense of the world.10 Another reason for limited connections of ‘bing’ with pasta is that, it cannot be industrially produced since it does not use wheat.

The inclusion of ‘bing’ in this exploration of the origins of pasta comes in light of the need to be fully aware of the richness of the pasta-associated vocabulary. Languages of Eastern Europe, Turkey, Arabia and Persia all contributed to the two greatest civilizations of pasta, which took place in China and Italy. So far, the present modern history of pasta places its origin in China. Its route of spreading covered Japan, Korea, most of Southeast Asia and then to the rest of the world. It could be a pointer to the original dorum-wheat pasta, or the various alterations of fresh pasta such as ‘bing’ that is mentioned elsewhere in this paper.

Other culinary influences for Americans come from Eurasian countries. Germany, Iran, Greece, Russia, Turkey, Poland and all Central and Eastern Asia countries and even the Middle East have a variety of recipes for pasta. The Middle East is one of the sources of dried pasta recipes. Italy and China remain as the biggest influences to modern day pasta recipes thanks to the countrywide popularity of pasta in these two countries.

Evolution of pasta – techniques and ingredients that evolved over time

Pasta in its original form was made of dorum wheat flour and eggs. In some cases water was also used. The flour was sifted and kneaded with the eggs for a long time until the mixture was even and soft. The use of water varied according to the type of pasta wanted. With firm dough that is already smooth, the mixture was left to rest while covered. After a while, it was rolled into a sheet that was not too thin and then placed on a stringed instrument.

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The instrument which later became the pasta maker was originally called a guitar (‘chitarra’ in its traditional reference). With the flatted mixture now on the pasta maker, a uniform pressure was applied using a rolling pin that was handled by placing both hands at its ends. Pressing the pasta slice on the strings resulted to the famous ‘maccheroni’. These were square spaghetti that measure 30cm long. After making them, they were tossed into boiling salted water and let to boil for a while until they cooked.11 Other references to this type of food could have been ‘caratelle’, ‘tonnarelli’, ‘crioli’, or ‘stringhetti’.

The several critical developments that shaped the character of Italian America during the interwar years

The Great Migration of Italians –determining the root cause of the migration

Few Italians had settled in America before 1820 and at the time, those who were in the country were mainly missionaries, travelers, artists and other professionals. Counting of immigrants into the United States began in 1820 and at the time, the number of Italians moving into America was stated as 81,249.12 From 1820 to 1920, about 4 million Italians had arrived in the U.S. In comparison, the total number of immigrants in the same period was 23,465,274. Half of the 4 million Italians mentioned here arrived between 1901 and 1910.13

Italians were moving to the United States, mainly due to the overpopulation of the Italian south area known as mezzogiorno.14 Most of the immigrants were peasants and they lacked sophistication. Besides, the agricultural activities in Italy that they could engage in were no longer profitable. Most of the methods used by the peasants were primitive and the returns on their small business would not allow them to survive the punitive taxation regime in Italy.15 Moreover, most of the people moving from Italy lacked a sense of patriotism to the country and were also frustrated by the political conditions of the country. On the other hand, the opportunities for a democratic and developing society with opportunities in industrial development made America attractive as an immigrant’s new home.16

Restrictions placed by the U.S. on immigration in 1924 limited the number of people who would migrate to the U.S. A new quota was placed at two percent of the foreign nation’s population in the U.S. as of 1890.17 However, there was a special humanitarian legislation that allowed 140,000 Italians to move to the U.S. from the war-torn Italy between 1952 and 1962.18

Italy’s alliance with the United States and the service of many immigrants in the U.S. military

When the U.S. entered the World War I, its citizens became open-minded to the cuisines of all their allies. The women’s magazines published around the time of WWI included spaghetti recipes that ensured the meal was no longer just a privilege enjoyed at Italian American restaurants. At the same time, the red-checkered tablecloth and straw-encased bottles of wine became identities of special restaurant meals, and were copied from the Italians.19

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Italy was unified and that is when food became an important part of economic development. It also contributed to the various technology developments and production in the country, that catapulted Italy to a dominant role in trade in pasta at the time.20 At the time, increasing the connection of Italy with overseas countries was seen as a form of economic empowerment and this analogy must have influenced movement of Italians into the United States and other countries around Europe.21

Much of the recording of earlier pasta sources relied on historical documents, but above all, recipes have also played a major role in uncovering pasta origins. Pasta, in places where it has thrived, like in the United States and in Italy, is a daily fare where preparing it is mostly a household activity. It happens quickly and does not demand a thorough knowledge of foods or cooking methods. Any layman can prepare pasta with little instruction or after observing another person do the same thing.

Key reasons for the popularity of pasta are its versatility, especially when it is produced industrially as dried pasta. It can be stored, and is therefore suitable for use as a packed meal for travelers, soldiers, merchants and other professionals or tourists. Besides being easy to store and use, the food is also available in recipes from all corners of the world. It can be the basic food, thus making up one of the simplest dishes known to man, and it can also be quite complex when present with a myriad of other ingredients in intricate recipes that are suited for extraordinary occasions.

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Besides that, most Americans were not familiar with the garlic and other unfamiliar scents that dominated the Italian cuisines, and rather than embrace it, they first hated it.22 At the time, various magazines that were publishing Italian recipes classified them as too difficult and costly for common use. Nevertheless, Italian Americans never relented, they continued to use their style of cooking and practiced all food traditions known to them until their population had increased significantly, and many Americans had become used to them.23

Global forces, invasions and cultural influences that shaped the characteristics of Italian cuisines are also responsible for the migration of Italians in America. The use of Italian cities as important stop overs for trade is some of the reasons that brought ingredients to Italy to make them part of the country’s cuisine. For example, the trade of rice and tomatoes affected the collection of spices that were eventually incorporated into mainstream Italian foods, depending on the availability of those food items.

Meanwhile, the trade and invasions were also causing the Italians to seek greener pastures to raise their families, to find better entrepreneurship opportunities and to escape war. As the Italians took part in the Mediterranean trade, they were subject to dealing with food items that could be grown, produced, consumed and exported such that many preferred to concentrate on their country’s main income generating activity for entrepreneurs, which was pasta making.24

This was the preferred business to go into, either to deal with the finished pasta product or its ingredient components. Some of the Italians who made it to the United States were not originally trading in pasta, but are believed to be traders and business owners. Their trade in pasta arises as an economic opportunity they spotted first among Italian communities living in the U.S. and later as the local population embraced the Italian cuisine.25

During the World War I, Italians settled into communities around the United States did their share of fighting for the U.S. Consequently, they were able to use their participation as evidence for the patriotism and this made other people see them as proud Americans. Names of Italian Americans were present in draftees lists placed on local press, and other lists of persons going to war. They also featured prominently in the wounded and the dead during the war, such that they could not be relegated to second class citizens as they were initially treated.26 The inclusion would later play a huge role in ensuring that Americans come to love the Italian cultural influences and their foods, especially pasta.

The factors of the Great Depression, forcing Italian Americans back into their family-centered ethnic communities. –could have contributed to the emergence of “Little Italies”

The migration of Italians produced an uneven geography of ‘Little Italies’, with most of them being around the United States due to the large number of immigrants to the country.27 Migrants clustered in one area instead of spreading evenly around the country. Their clusters divided when they were too big to sustain cohesion, and also migrants from Italy moved with their prejudices and preferences from Italy, and would not easily cohabit with other Italian immigrants when back at home they were not friendly.28 ‘Little Italies’ are the neighborhoods that comprise mostly of Italians from any generation living outside Italy, and mostly in North America. Formation of cluster living was also due to the need to stay away from a native population of a country that held negative conception of Italians.29

It is surprising that Americans actually came to embrace pasta given the fact that in the late 19th century, they held negative stereotypes against Italian immigrants. They thought the Italians from the southern part of Italy were lazy, violent and uneducated, such that an opinion writer even described the situation as dire and it was hopeless to think of civilizing the Italians.30 The prejudice against Italians stretched to include their food, as it increasingly became a point of contention to note that Italians were simply not agreeing to abandon their traditional food.

Americans initially viewed the reluctance as an obsession that was not welcome. They expected the Italian immigrants to freely embrace more mainstream diets that were available in the United States. Thus, food became a measure of assimilation and it defined the trueness of an American. Anyone championing for social reforms at the time were unable to comprehend the Italians’ motivation of opting to import ingredients from Italy, which consumed a large part of their disposable incomes, when they could readily buy affordable American substitutes.31

Factors Contributing to the Main Stream of Pasta

World War I—brings importations to a halt, raising the number of US pasta makers.

The dominance of the United States as a major wheat producer compelled economic authorities to assist in the development of the pasta industry as a form of wheat value addition. Many of these efforts were assisted immensely by the First World War because it cutoff international supply sources of wheat and pasta. Domestic production had to step up and meet local demand. The domestic demand and lack of internal access meant that the pasta industry became profitable and encouraged research and innovation on production systems.

After the war, manufacturers and wheat producers were certain that not resuming imports would be the best thing for the industry. The main reason was that the local industry was already fulfilling local demand and that the domestic demand had not increased substantially to support both the local producers and international suppliers. From 1090 to 1913, per capita consumption was estimated at 4.3 pounds, then it dropped to 4.0 pounds. It was in the 1930s and 1940s that the consumption peaked to 7.5 pounds per capita and then it dropped again to 2 pounds. Although the per capita consumption is modest, actual numbers are quite large partly due to a rapid population increase in the United States32.

As early as 1848, Antoine Zerega founded a small factory for making pasta in Brooklyn and named it A. Zerega’s Sons Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).. The company later became known as Zerega’s Sons, Inc., and it is one of the biggest names in pasta making industry in the country currently. The founder of the company had been living in France, where a company with a similar name was registered as early as 1820.

The accolade of Zerega as the founder of the pasta industry in the U.S. is only based on assumption as the evidence is not conclusive to make it a fact.33 Since at the time pasta making could only happen in small scale, the initial expansion strategy for factories was not to increase the size of one factory but to develop more small factories across an expansive region. With so many small firms, there was need to form a professional association, and that need was fulfilled in 1904, when the National Association of Macaroni and Noodle Manufacturers became legal. By 1981, the association had changed to become the National Pasta Association (NPA).34

Competition was high in the first century of operation for most pasta companies and mergers and acquisitions dominated the U.S. pasta industry. In 1925, there were 347 factories, whose size was large enough to play a dominant role in the pasta manufacturing industry. The majority of the companies were in New York.35

In 1929, the pasta production figure was double that of 1920, and imports of pasta had reduced by 92 percent. Domestic product had exceeded demand in 1922. The evidence of an increase in domestic production and a significant reduction in imports shows that the war years were favorable for the development of the American pasta industry. During the war years in 1914 to 1920, there was a freeze of Italian imports.

Besides that, the American manufacturers already had access to dorum wheat planted in the United States. The lucrativeness of dorum wheat attracted the attention of American manufacturers who contemplated on the possibilities of acclimatizing different varieties of the popular Russian dorum wheat. Already, Russia was the leading supplier and grower of the best quality strains of dorum wheat. In fact, attempts to grow Russian dorum wheat strains had happened in Russia.36

“Eat More Wheat” campaigns—drove consumers to purchase more pasta products.

The success of the American pasta industry came not just due to the ability of local manufacturers to rapidly increase production to meet domestic demand, but because of the wide-scale conversion of Americans to become regular consumers of pasta. The food came to America and lasted years as an exotic food, but marketing efforts by the industry stakeholders successfully converted it to an everyday consumer product. Conversion happened in the second half of the twentieth century and it was as hard as mass-producing pasta; it was noted by the increase in consumption levels among Americans to match the levels witnessed in other developed countries.

By 1999, per capita consumption of pasta had grown to 20 pounds.37 A key factor that led to that consumption increase was the genius of packaging, advertising, recipes and recommendations on the best ways of cooking pasta. Producers came out in all their might to ensure they convert every American into a pasta consumer. Like other Native American industries, conquering the local market was not enough, and after successfully making pasta a daily meal, the industry focused on international conquest.

The trade war between the United States and Italy was due to the dominance of the two countries as major producers in the world market. Another important characteristic of the trade war is that most of the American producers involved were often from Italy in person or through their families. After some time, American producers copied marketing strategies used by Italians such as packaging and naming of their products using Italian-sounding names.

The mimicking of marketing strategies allowed American manufacturers of pasta to occupy the second market position. From 1936 to 1940, the U.S. was exporting more than 1,760 tons annually and the quantity increased to more than 110,000 tons as exports to Europe increased. Exports were mainly helped by the Second World War effects in Europe, which meant that the region was unable to produce enough pasta for its domestic consumption.38

American cuisine lacked the motivating drive of royalty while cuisines from other countries like Spain and Italy or China all were inspired by the need to have a national food that would be served at royal courts. Chefs competed against each other and in the processes ended up making the average meal served in a royal court to be quite complex. Also, ordinary citizens of these countries, and also in the United States saw these diets are too complex for daily consumption but still they waited for the moment they could also act royal-like by taking on the cuisines.39

Cafeteria Popularity in the 1920’s—spaghetti and macaroni were staple items

The conviction that the Italian diet was superior to the American diet ensured that Italian children withstood the frustration and shame of being mocked in school for their home cooked meals. While Americans would call say Italians are so full of garlic, Italians would in return say that Americans were “butter and jelly on mushy white bread”.40

After shunning the Italian cuisine, artists and progressive era reformers started venturing into Italian neighborhoods to sample the cuisine. For a while, the eating of Italian diets in America was only done by the most daring people, but it slowly became an encounter that less-daring eaters would eventually crave. As consumer of Italian cuisine grew, the Italian American restaurants also increased in number. Most entrepreneurs chose to allow Italian American menu items in their restaurants because they were interested in the monetary gain, rather than the inclusion of the Italian culture in their way of living.41

The early settlers in America who came from Italy were faced with the challenge of either missing out totally on their traditional diets or doing with what they had to obtain the closest resemblance to what they ate at home. Through sheer ingenuity, they made to do with what they had, which meant that they relied on dried herbs imported from Italy, in place of fresh herbs that they would have access to when they were in Italy. They also used canned vegetables and fruit, and at the same time, they added more meat to their diet.

The Italian restaurants in American soil did not serve the same food at the restaurants in Italy. The American version of the Italian cuisine had more frozen food, meatballs, manicotti, lasagna and pizza often combined with corn products that were dominant in America such as hot dogs and hamburgers.42 The mix up of diets and ingredients made the foods feel exotic yet consumable by average people. The Italian immigrants abandoned their strict Italian food association and instead embraced the Italian-American cuisine, with some of them becoming the best chefs in America.43

Macaroni’s popularity– In terms of being an “American” food: macaroni and cheese made the list of the top 10 foods of the century.

As it is backed plain or mixed with cheese, macaroni has become one of the most popular foods in America because it appeals to children and adults alike and also because it only relies on simple ingredients accessible to anyone. It is a quick to prepare food that adapts well to the busy lifestyles of the Americans. Most of the ingredients for making the diet are readily available in most kitchens in the United States.

All a person needs to do is take the cheese and macaroni, then put in an oven as a mixture or heat it together.44 There was a time when macaroni salad was a popular side dish served at family picnics and church potlucks because it was so easy to prepare and carry as a takeaway meal. The form of macaroni popular in America is mostly pasta, cheese and a little of other ingredients.45

Agricultural Implications and Technological Advances

Production of Durum wheat– More than 100 million bushels are produced annually, largely in North Dakota.

The government through the Department of Agriculture distributed wheat seeds to farmers who were interested in cultivating the first domesticated wheat strain developed from imported Russian dorum wheat. However, the uptake by farmers was not very high and the wheat did not succeed in becoming an important commercial crop at the time. It was in the beginning of the 20th century that more robust attempts by the government were initiated to ensure that the wheat grown in the U.S. was of similar high quality as the one grown in Russia.

During the research and development phase, researchers in America used both Russian and North African varieties of wheat. They also picked other strains from the other Americas countries such as Chile, Nicaragua, Canada and Argentina. With adequate public funding for the research program favorable results were reported in Dakota. Two decades later, the United States had become the biggest wheat producer in the world. Canada followed suit soon afterwards, and North American became the biggest producer of wheat. The war also helped to put North American into the global limelight as Russia and Ukraine wheat farms were destroyed by war and revolution. In fact, some famous wheat strains disappeared from Russia because of the war’s effect.46

The invention of Machines to make Pasta

Pasta making was a simple affair in early times. In Italy, the town of Fara San Martino was one of the biggest producers of pasta and its pasta industries survived economic downturns due to the importance of the industries to the ordinary lives of the citizens in Italy.47 The waters of the Verde River are pure and drinkable from the source, and they served as the greatest resource for the pasta factories that were based in the area. During these times, when pasta making and pasta industries were still in their infancy, the development of the food consisted of putting the pasta dough through the plates. These plates gave it the desired shape. As a result, there were different shapes and sizes of pasta. When the pasta was made with the plates, the producers dried it outdoors by placing it on a cloth or wood.

By the 19th century, pasta making had revolutionized to include automatic drying machines. The introduction of automatic drying was a necessity brought by the changes in weather that made it impossible to produce pasta in wet and cold months due to lack of sufficient sunlight exposure. With machine drying, production could last throughout the year, and consumers could enjoy pasta any day.48 The technology continued to develop throughout the 20th century with better machines for drying and increased capacity for monitoring processes to produce standardized pastas.

In Neapolitan origins of pasta, sun drying was a fundamental procedure for pasta making. The paster makers were mostly located along the Neapolitan coastline that was subject to differences in humidity at separate times of the day and seasons. The heat with dry coolness brought by two winds along the coastline served as the best natural drying systems in the world. In retrospect, drying is the most complex and sensitive feature of the pasta making exercise.

The Neapolitans developed an art and unrivaled mastery of the drying process.49 For them, industrial expansion was not impossible, as they did not have to worry about drying. This was unlike the circumstances facing the early industrial producers of pasta in the United States who did not have access to sunlit beaches. In fact, even in Italy, the northern producers of pasta were already having drying problems and when they converted to industrial processes, the drying became more problematic.50

The documented existence of pasta making machines comes from Thomas Jefferson’s personal notes that also helped to document the beginnings of the pasta industry in the United States. After a tour of northern Italy in the late 18th century, Jefferson encountered the macaroni machine and used its design to build his own variation because he was unable to use the original equipment. In the early industrial production of Pasta, Italian families that were responsible for the development of the first factories relied mostly on manual laborers do operate mechanical machines.

Peasants pounded dough with their feet before the creation of machines that mechanized the kneading process. By 1834, there was a functioning dough-kneading machine that eventually outplaced the use of several barefooted men to knead at an industrial scale. The machine had similar bronzed mechanical legs like the ones workers used to knead dough. However, in place of using human energy, the machine used fuel energy, which was a product of the industrial revolution that was taking place at the time.51

The pasta making machine came in 1933 after the perfection of the continuous press that ensured one machine executed three processes namely mixing, kneading and extrusion. This happened automatically and continuously. The perfection became the crowing jewel of the first generation industrial pasta-making machines.52 This should not be confused with the machine that Thomas Jefferson modified in order to make pasta at a small scale, and what was commonly used in the initial factories around the United States that had to be geographically close to their consumers due to their small scale nature.

A company named Braibanti that perfected the pressing mechanism built the first fully automatic pasta production line with the machines that weighed semolina and then measured materials for the mixture. The line also included devices for handling final extrusion process so that the pasta finally linked together and these components of the automated production line all worked synchronically.53

Jefferson had set up shop to act as a pasta maker and a miller. He relied on horse power and later steam before moving on to use electricity when resources and technologies permitted the acquisition of modern manufacturing equipment. Drying at the time was still by natural means.54

Although the machine for making industrial pasta was available earlier than the Second World War, it was after the war that it became popular as the second industrial revolution took place. The revolution ensured that the lines could be produced faster and with lower labor costs. As a result, it became affordable and made economic sense for pasta producers to invest in the automatic pasta processing line for their operations. Today, the automatic processes rely on computerized robots that rely on single technician supervision using a computer screen to calibrate, program and monitor operations of the pasta making process.

In the initial formation and use of machines, the main knowledge input relied on the master maker of pasta who provided all the measurements, and operated as a skilled artisan and entrepreneur. In the modern age, the input is replaced by measurements done in a laboratory. The physical strength needed for kneading large scale dough that was provided by manual laborers now comes from machines powered by heavy hydraulic mechanisms. In fact, the power of these machines dwarfs that of the manual laborers.

The pasta machine was patented in Ohio in 1906 to make it the official machine in the United States. As an invention, it caught on faster than the radio invention.55

Thomas Jefferson’s love of macaroni

The roots of the pasta industry in the United States go back to the nineteenth century. They come from an artisanal activity. This activity started before Italians began their massive immigration to the United States. Most scholars looking into the origin of pasta in the U.S. point towards Thomas Jefferson as the originator because he imported the first pasta-making machine in America. He links the birth of the pasta industry with the other historical deeds that contributed to the foundation of the U.S. as a nation that it is today.

Interestingly, Jefferson is also regarded as the father of the nation for authoring the Declaration of Independence.56 Research into the immigration of Italians to the United States and other related research on pasta’s introduction, done by scholars, show that the main intention of Jefferson in importing the pasta making machine was to ensure that the U.S. benefits from anything that is useful. Jefferson also proceeded to plan and budget for research activities around the first pasta machine to find more ways of using it for production of pasta in the U.S. Jefferson had served as the U.S. ambassador to Italy from 1785 to 1789.57

It is during his time in Europe that he learned about pasta and its industry. He also learned the usefulness of pasta as a great economic activity in Naples. The machine imported by Jefferson, and the initial pasta making machines in the U.S. could only produce small-scale pasta and relied much on hand labor. Substantial types of production commenced in early 19th century, where manufacturers began using professional equipment.58

American Pasta

Pasta is always affordable even for the most financial-constrained households. The America Pasta Association began tracking pasta imports to the U.S. in 1975. By 1985, it reported that imports had risen from 54 million pounds to 175 million pounds.59 On the other production by American manufacturers had increased to 2 billion. The fear of American manufacturers was that importation from abroad; mainly Italy would claim a significant share of the local pasta market. Increasing tariffs on foreign pasta imports was seen as a way of ensuring that American manufacturers get a fair, competitive ground, given that foreign manufacturers were already being subsidized a lot.

Factors that led to pasta becoming more of an Italian-American cuisine that was different from the old country cuisines.

The need to make Americans appreciate and embrace Italian diets was the main reason for the invention of a specific Italian American cuisine. The earlier discomfort shown by Americans towards Italians and their spicy diets had to be overcome by foods that were still pasta related, but at the same time had an American feel hence the unique proposition of an Italian-American cuisine. This was a way of attracting ordinary Americans into the numerous Italian restaurants that were mushrooming all over the county.

Spaghetti and Meatballs—an Italian/American dish

In the United Stated, serving pasta happens similar to the way it is done in Italy, except for the addition of spaghetti and meatballs.

A trickle of olive oil combined with chopped garlic sparsely spread and parsley are sure to make a delicious plate of spaghetti.60 To make a more interesting dish, one can add lemon juice and fresh julienned carrots as accompaniments. Besides, spaghetti served with fish broth together with few cucumber slices go well to mimic the experience of savoring Vietnamese noodle salad. Refined cuisines around the world have always relied on pasta as a fundamental ingredient.

Any amateur or professional chef, can be inventive with pasta in its fresh or dried dorum wheat or ordinary wheat composition. The natural essence of pasta has made the food so popular among both rich and poor households. Its purity and ability to blend into complex cuisines ensures that it always has a place in the Western world. However, for Americans, the greatest motivation to cook pasta comes from the influences of Italian cooking, which mainly refer to the pasta made of dorum wheat.61

The spaghetti with meatballs is an Italian-American dish that is popular in the United States, and was first published as a recipe by the National Pasta Association in the early 20th century.62 Spaghetti with meatballs is a rare food in Italy, yet it is a household name in the U.S. In Sicily, small portions of meat were sighted as additions to feast day pasta sources, but they did not serve as daily food ingredients.63 A reason for the observation was that at the time, meat was scare in the area. In the U.S. the introduction of pasta, and its subsequent popularization happened at times when meat was already becoming a staple food in most diets and households, and its introduction as meatballs to the pasta recipe was not surprising.64

The spaghetti with meatballs is prepared by combining all ingredients in a bowl, then kneading the mixture with hands before shaping the mixture into balls and frying them on direct heat until the balls become brown all round.65

Pasta and meat are symbols of prosperity and they combine well to celebrate life in America. The combination of spaghetti with meatballs is a unique addition of American lifestyle and influence to the already rich history of pasta cuisines from around the world.66 From its origins as an experimental recipe, it has become a mainstream American diet, thanks to the dynamic immigrant business elite who promoted the dish actively due to their heavy influence in the National Pasta Association and its aim of growing the domestic consumption of pasta in the United States.67

Final remarks of the American pasta diet

The process of making the Italian-American cuisine was already taking place as more Italians became part of the mainstream lifestyle in the United States. Nevertheless, the actual conversion process of large populations of Americans to embrace the diet took form after the Second World War. A U.S. Army hospital cook created a recipe collection in 1953 that highlighted the mainstreaming of the diet. The tile of the collection was ‘Italian cooking for the American kitchen’.68

The rise of food industry in the United States happened at a time when the majority of citizens believed in not thinking too much about food. In fact, many followed the belief that a person received his or her sustenance and he or she ingests it without question or comment. Discussing how something tastes was considered vanity and unwelcome. For hundreds of years, Americans grew up conditioned not to discuss about food, and this explains their lack of culinary interest in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The arrival of immigrants from Europe and other countries first shocked Americans then influenced them to abandon their reservations about food and instead become critical of cuisines that led to later adoption. Slaves from the Caribbean came with new sets of spices that added tremendous zest to diets in the U.S. Major Slave trading cities also become centers for spice trading.69 Similarly, immigrations from Europe brought in new foods and contributed to the growth of several food industries.

In the case of pasta, its adoption to the American cuisine relied on the establishment of other ingredients and foods that had already become common. Mexican, Indians and Spanish settlers brought flavors from Mexico to Texas to create diets that were similar to foods in Mexico but not really the same. This is also the case that happened with Italian cuisine. The settlement of Italian immigrants into communities within the United States allowed them to substitute some of the ingredients of their native Italian diets with what was available in America to create a new blend of food.70

In the end, the popularity of macaroni and cheese as a diet as well as the availability of pasta in a variety of food outlets in America all point out to the rich history of the food as discussed in this paper. The focus has been since its ancient origin to the major influence of Italian immigrants to the United States, and the eventual growth of the pasta making industry.


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Stone, Martha. Mac & Cheese Recipes. Martha Stone, 2014.

Wallach, Jennifer Jensen. How America Eats. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013.


  1. Tori Avey, ‘Uncover the history of pasta’, in The History Kitchen. Web.
  2. Oretta Zanini De Vita, Encylcopedia of pasta (Los Angeles, CA: University of Carlifonia Press, 2009).
  3. Ulrich Vogel Hans, Marco Polo was in China (Leiden: Brill NV, 2013).
  4. Oretta Zanini De Vita, Encylcopedia of pasta (Los Angeles, CA: University of Carlifonia Press, 2009).
  5. Ibid
  6. Mary Ellen Snodgrass, Encyclopedia of kitchen history (New York, NY: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004).
  7. Ibid
  8. Ibid
  9. Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).
  10. Oretta Zanini De Vita, Encylcopedia of pasta (Los Angeles, CA: University of Carlifonia Press, 2009).
  11. Frank J Cavauoli, ‘Patterns of Italian immigration to the United States’, The Catholic Social Science Review, 13 (2008), 213-29.
  12. Ibid
  13. Ibid
  14. Ibid
  15. Joel Denjer, The world on a plate: A tour through the history of Ameica’s ethinic cuisine ([n.p]: University of Nebrasaka Press, 2007).
  16. Frank J Cavauoli, ‘Patterns of Italian immigration to the United States’, The Catholic Social Science Review, 13 (2008), 213-29.
  17. Ibid
  18. Jennifer Jensen Wallach, How America Eats (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013).
  19. Stefano Luconi, ‘Becoming Italian in the US’, Melus, 2004, pp. 151-64.
  20. John F Mariani, How Italian food conquered the world (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
  21. Frances M Malpezzi, Italian-American folklore ([n.p]: August House, 2005).
  22. Jennifer Jensen Wallach, How America Eats (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013).
  23. John F Mariani, How Italian food conquered the world (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
  24. Ibid
  25. Kent Brian, ‘The impact of World War I and World War II on Italian Americans in Oswego, New York: A preliminary view’, in Oswego Historian. Web.
  26. Ibid
  27. Paula Branca-Santos, ‘Injustice ignored: The internment of Italian – Americans during World War II’, Pace International Law Review, 13 (2001), 151-82.
  28. Web.
  29. Jennifer Jensen Wallach, How America Eats (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013).
  30. Ibid
  31. Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).
  32. Ibid
  33. Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).
  34. Ibid
  35. Hasia R Dinner, ‘Hungering for America: Italian, Irish and Jewish foodways in the age of migration’, Harvard University Press, 2009.
  36. Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).
  37. T J Ferraro, Feeling Italian: The Art of Ethnicity (New York, NY: NYU Press, 2005).
  38. David Rosengarten, ‘We are what we eat: We are a nation of Immigrants’, E-Journal USA, July 2004, p. 6.
  39. Jennifer Jensen Wallach, How America Eats (Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013).
  40. Ibid
  41. David Rosengarten, ‘We are what we eat: We are a nation of Immigrants’, E-Journal USA, July 2004, p. 6.
  42. Ibid
  43. Martha Stone, Mac & cheese recipes ([n.p]: Martha Stone, 2014).
  44. John F Mariani, How Italian food conquered the world (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
  45. Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).
  46. Ibid
  47. Luciano Di Gregorio, Bradt Abruzzo, 2nd edn (Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, Inc., 2013).
  48. Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).
  49. Ibid
  50. The Oxfrod companion to American food and drink, ed. by Andrew F Smith (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  51. Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).
  52. Ibid
  53. Ibid
  54. Dominic Gabriel Cianciusi, The Tuscan telephone truimph (Ontario: Panick Enterprises Inc., 2010).
  55. Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).
  56. Ibid
  57. Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).
  58. Irvin Molotsky, ‘A pasta war may be at hand’, in The New York Times. Web.
  59. Silvano Serventi and Francoise Sabban, Pasta – the story of a universal food (Rome: Columbia University Press, 2002).
  60. Ibid
  61. Massimo Montanari, Let the meatballs rest (West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 2009).
  62. L Gvion and N Trostler, ‘From spaghetti and meatballs through Hawaiian pizza to sushi’, The Journal of Popular Culture, 41 (2008), 950-74.
  63. Uma Aggarwal, The melting pot cuisine part II (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2013).
  64. Ibid
  65. John Dickie, The epic history of italians and their food (New York, NY: Free Press, 2008).
  66. Ibid
  67. Ibid
  68. John Dickie, The epic history of italians and their food (New York, NY: Free Press, 2008).
  69. David Rosengarten, ‘We are what we eat: We are a nation of Immigrants’, E-Journal USA, July 2004, p. 6.
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