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The Science of Perfect Pizza

The Science of Perfect Pizza

How to make pizza according to chemistry, physics and maths: it will amaze you to learn how much scientific theory is contained in each single slice.

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If you have no ready-made food in the house and no wish to go out, but just want to lounge about in front of the TV, what better way to fill your stomach than having a pizza.

Just think, over 5 billion pizzas are sold worldwide every year. The very essence of a quick meal that is cheap and tasty, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a simple dish. It will amaze you to learn how much scientific theory is contained in each single slice.

Let's start from the shape

For once, we are not going to start with chemistry and physics, but maths. Have you ever wondered if it is cheaper to buy one large pizza for four people or four individual pizzas? As you may remember, the surface area of a circle – and consequently of a pizza – can be calculated using the formula


Where π is Pi (3.14) and “r” the radius. An average-sized pizza has a radius of four inches so its surface area is equivalent to about 50 square inches. If the radius is doubled, however, the surface area will not be just twice as large: with a radius of eight inches in fact it will measure around 201 square inches. In other words, it will be four times as big.

In view of the fact that a “big” pizza generally costs twice as much, it will certainly be cheaper since it provides you with four times as much pizza.

The formula of success

Having solved the problem of the best way to order pizza, we can now go on to address another tricky topic: why is pizza so popular? In the US alone, according to a report published by the Department of Agriculture, one American out of eight eats pizza every day. If we only consider young people aged between six and 19, the percentage rises to an amazing 26%.

Another study carried out by Michigan University explains why: based on a sample of 504 students, pizza turns out to be their favourite food by far. Scientists have identified the reason for this food addiction as a combination of dough, cheese, tomato and seasonings.

Food science applied to ingredients

Pizza dough, so similar to that of bread, is rich in carbohydrates and, when it undergoes the Maillard reaction in the oven, gives off a tantalising aroma that stimulates the appetite. Furthermore, carbohydrates are macronutrients the palate and brain find extremely agreeable which, being highly digestible, are “addiction” forming an effect that is also aided by the abundant amount of fats in cheese.

This ingredient is also packed with excellent casein, a protein of great nutritional value which, once digested, releases casomorphins. These beneficial protein fragments stimulate the morphine and k-opioid receptors in our brain, that is, the ones regulating sensations of pleasure. An abundance of casomorphin triggers these receptors, regaling us with a sense of utter wellbeing as we enjoy a slice of pizza with a topping of melted cheese.

Added to all of these factors, there is also plenty of tomato on a pizza. It has now been universally established that there are more than just four basic tastes. In addition to sourness, sweetness, bitterness and saltiness, we also have the taste of umami.

It is less easy to define than the others but we know that the substance in question is glutamate, which gives food its irresistible flavour. In fact, “umami” in Japanese means “tasty”.

A spoonful of parmesan contains about 75 milligrams of glutamate, which makes this cheese delicious. Imagine the effect of 140 milligrams to be found in three spoonfuls of tomato, the average amount used on a pizza! You will now be aware that this famous Italian speciality is a scientific bombshell ready to go off in your brain. How to feel its full effect? Order a traditional pizza sprinkled with an abundant serving of parmesan cheese. But be prepared to eat a couple of them.

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