Pizza comes in different shapes and sizes across the world. But the round pizza is the most commonly eaten pizza pretty much everywhere.
There is a joke as to why pizza is round, has a square box but is cut into triangles. It’s a bit odd when you think about it! So I did some research into why we have all these different shapes. So why is pizza round?
Pizza is round for the following reasons:
- Before cooking, pizza dough is formed into a ball to rise.
- A ball is easier to shape and stretches to an evenly thick base.
- A dough ball is stretched out from the center so becomes round.
- Sometimes dough is stretched by throwing and spinning it – this makes it circular.
- It is easier to cut into equal portions, like a pie.
- The shape is iconic and popular – no other food looks like pizza.
- Traditional Neapolitan pizza has set rules and must be circular.
So why is the box square, and the pieces cut into triangles?
Why Round Pizza Is Easier To Make
Pizza dough is kneaded together as a whole then split into pieces for the pizzas. These dough balls are then allowed to rise before they are stretched and baked. You want the dough ball to be nice and neat so that when you stretch it out you don’t have thicker parts. The easiest shape to do this? A ball of course. It would be harder to split a large piece of dough into 6 square pieces of dough! But 6 ball shaped pieces of dough can be done quickly, easily and consistently.
The round ball can then be stretched out. You could stretch this into a rectangle but the easier way is to just stretch it outwards. When you stretch a ball of dough, you stretch it from the center, so naturally it creates a round shape.
Some people stretch it out even more by tossing the pizza dough. When the pizza dough is tossed and spun in the air, it receives centrifugal force which pulls it outwards. This is the force received pulling away from the center as something spins – and is why the pizza gets bigger, thinner and more round as you spin it.
Round shaped food are quite common, think cakes, pies and tarts. If you make something round, then it is easy to cut into portions. And the portions are even because you get a bit of everything from the outer crust, to the center where all the toppings are.
The look of pizza is instantly recognisable, and always gets your mouth watering. The round shape, with its crust and toppings – there are even emojis about pizza. Usually if something is iconic then it sticks, that’s because the presentation of pizza is appetizing and popular.
All of these things have caused pizza to become round by tradition, and tradition is hard to break. Pizza was created in Napoli in Italy, and the Neapolitan pizza there now has certain rules it must abide by if it is to be called a true Neapolitan pizza. One of these rules being it must be round – so even the shape has been enforced it is that important. Other rules include using products only from the Campania region of Italy, such as the San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.
Square Pizza Does Exist
Square or rectangular pizza can also be made, but is not as popular as its round brother. ‘Sicilian style’ is most commonly used to describe pizza that comes square.
It’s baked in a tray so this gives the shape – you don’t stretch the dough out beforehand but simply push it into the tray and bake it. This gives you an inch or so thick pizza base, which essentially fries in a good coating of oil in the tray and becomes very crisp.
It’s a good pizza to make and serve to a crowd as it is easy to make with no dough stretching and baking in a tray. It slices up easily in squares to share. Because it is made in the tray it doesn’t need stretching, tossing or any of the other factors influencing the round pizza.
Why Is Pizza Round But The Box Is Square?
You never see a round box to accompany a round pizza! You might have never thought about this until now, but here is some reasons why:
- Square boxes are much easier to make, needing only one piece of cardboard. Round boxes need a few pieces.
- One piece of cardboard can be unfolded flat and so boxes take up less space when being stored.
- Shipping is easier and cheaper from flat packing, stacking, less movement.
- Square boxes are stacked in freezers and shelves easily, and flat edges stop the box falling.
- A circular box takes up the same width and length so no space saving improvement.
- Cheaper to make square boxes as they are common and so don’t need bespoke production.
- We use square boxes for everything i.e. a shoe box, a cereal box.
Square boxes are easier and cheaper to make and logistically better than round boxes.
A circular box can’t easily be made out of one sheet of cardboard as the round edges cause problems. So this means it needs multiple pieces of cardboard, joining pieces, or more advanced production. So all in all, it just means more production cost.
Square boxes are made up of one piece of cardboard, and this is flattened when it is not in use – i.e. being transported or stored. An unfolded box takes up less space when it’s stacked so it’s cheaper to store and ship. You can’t get this benefit from a round box if its made of multiple pieces.
Square boxes have equal edges and so fit neatly, and stack easily. Circular boxes don’t fit together so well so can move around more in transit for example. Circular boxes still have the same length and width, so they take up the same space. This means they have more problems, but don’t actually have any space saving improvements.
In the grocery stores, pizzas are stacked on shelves and in the freezer. Being square helps them fit into these spaces more efficiently, and neatly. And they can stand up on the shelf without falling over.
Square or rectangular boxes are common for everything if you think about it, and we rarely have a box to fit the shape of the contents. We put shoes in a box, and cereal in a box. Right angles simply make shipping and storage easier. So box manufacturers are set up to make straight edge boxes as a ‘one size fits all’. If you want anything bespoke, that always costs more.
So that explains why pizza boxes are not circular.
But Why Not Square Pizza For A Square Box Then?
As we’ve mentioned, it is simply easier to make a pizza round from its dough ball to its stretching technique. So this has become well known and traditional. There is the argument that square pizza would be harder to get out of a square box, so a round pizza is actually easier to eat.
Why Is Pizza Cut Into Triangles?
Pizza is cut into triangle slices because that is the most common way to equally divide a circle – think of a pie chart.
You can also fold slices. This is particularly common in New York where pizza is sold by the slice and is often for take out food. It can be folded up and eaten on the go.
By slicing it from the crust to the center to make a triangle, every slice gets an equal portion of toppings and crust. It would be a bit unfair to give someone only the crusts!
Why Do They Cut Pizza in Squares In Some Places?
Not all pizzas are cut into triangles. Some pizza is cut into squares, a good example of this is the Chicago thin crust pizza which is popular in Midwestern United States. The pizza usually has toppings pushed right to the edge and so there is little or no crust. A portion will therefore have toppings on the whole square.
This cut can sometimes be referred to as ‘party-style’. This is because it is easier to cut and serve a large pizza in squares than slices – the slices become too long to manage from crust to center.
It is a good way of sharing in the same way you might cut up a large birthday cake into squares. As there is no crusts, everyone gets a similar portion. There is also less waste from people who throw away their crusts.
So there you have it, you now know the answer to pizza’s biggest questions. Pizza is easier to make round rather than any other shape. And pizza boxes are easier and cheaper to make square than circular. It’s cut into triangles as that is the natural way to divide a circle. That is why we get a mismatch of all these different shapes.
You might think twice the next time you order a pizza!