Pizza is a traditional food, but is popular because of its portability and the wide variety of ingredients that
it can incorporate.




Gourmet Pizzas: Unique, Yet Familiar

A crackling hot, wood-fired oven, a crisp, cracker-like crust topped simply with a fresh tomato sauce, a light sprinkling of cheese, hot from the oven and finished with fresh herbs. What could be better? Americans are in love with pizza, and the phenomenon is not a new one, but it is evolving. What are the hot trends in pizza today?  They do not just include the ever-changing ingredients available or flavor combinations invented by the creative minds of chefs, but also incorporate the whole philosophy of the restaurant, from authenticity to eco-friendly practices, even encompassing the way the pizzas are delivered and consumed. Outlined here are some of the top trends in pizza today, including:  “green” pizza practices, healthy options, unique and specialty toppings, authenticity, bold flavors and expanding ethnic options.

“Green” Pizza?
This terminology does not refer to moldy, leftover pizza stored in the refrigerator too long, or even a Dr. Seuss-inspired Green Eggs and Ham pizza, but to a growing movement in the U.S. to become more environmentally friendly. How can pizza tap into this movement? Several pizza chains are trying and doing it very successfully. Pizza Fusion has an eco-friendly motto: “Saving the earth one pizza at a time.” The chain promotes fresh, organic ingredients and a concept that is earth-friendly. Among the offerings are organic sauce, dough and vegetable offerings, organic beef, all-natural/free-range chicken and wild-caught seafood, such as Key West shrimp and Maine lobster. While Pizza Fusion uses many sustainable and organic ingredients, the company does not limit its efforts to just the ingredients on its pizzas. It is determined to run an ecologically sustainable business by implementing green initiatives, such as delivering the eco-friendly pizzas in hybrid cars.

Maddio’s can offer high-quality ingredients by promoting locally sourced and sustainable produce, when available, and opting for daily deliveries to ensure freshness.  The concept of being eco-friendly extends to packaging options, also. Sealed Air Corporation has introduced a compostable pizza baking tray that biodegrades within 10 days in a commercial compost environment or 40 days (or less) outdoors. These compostable trays are a great option for take-and-bake units to promote earth-friendly options to their customers. Other restaurants are also following suit, increasing energy efficiencies, implementing recycling programs, switching to biodegradable products and turning to many other ecologically friendly options.

Pizza can even invoke debate over political issues. After the ban on foie gras was implemented (but since repealed) in Chicago, a local pizza restaurant named Connie’s offered a foie gras pizza. Passion and protest over pizza is not just limited to the U.S. In London, an animal rights group called Animal Aid boycotted Eco Restaurants after the chain promoted a pizza called “the Hopper,” featuring frog legs, capers and anchovies. This shows consumers have a passion for pizza in more ways than one!

Another trend is the appearance of more healthful options. The term healthy has rarely been associated with pizza in the past, but this may change, as consumers are demanding more options that are flavorful and also perceived to benefit health. Pizza Hut has introduced “The Natural,” a premium, natural pizza with all-natural pepperoni or sausage, all-natural sauce made with vine-ripened tomatoes and all-natural cheese, all on a multi-grain crust. Papa John’s now has a 100% whole-wheat crust option, and other chains are going even further. Pizza Fusion is not only eco-friendly, but also trying to capture the growing market of vegetarians, vegans and consumers with allergies or intolerances. Pizza Fusion offers many vegetarian and vegan options, as well as gluten-free dough and lactose-free cheese options. Carminuccio’s Pizza & Subs offers an Insalata Pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella, topped with a fresh garden salad. These healthy offerings are not only limited to foodservice. Amy’s Kitchen and Kashi also offer organic and healthy options in the frozen food aisle, such as Amy’s Kitchen’s Rice Crust Cheese Pizza and Kashi’s All Natural Roasted Vegetable Pizza.  Tying into consumers’ demands for healthier options, manufacturers should offer pizzas that include organic, natural, cheese-less, hormone-free proteins, free-range proteins, soy cheese, gluten-free and whole-grain items.

Upscale and Boldly-flavored Toppings
Aside from healthier options, what are a few trends for pizza toppings?  Well, the sky is the limit!  While no one will dispute that pepperoni is king, and remains the most popular topping, ingredients are going upscale, and consumers are becoming more adventurous. Artisan meat offerings, such as prosciutto, braesola (cured beef), cotto salami, wood-roasted chicken, house-cured smoked salmon, crabmeat, chorizo and chicken apple sausage all are found on pizza menus today. To accompany these upscale proteins are a myriad of other offerings: arugula, French green beans, boiled eggs, capers, pine nuts, eggplant or avocado are just a few of the selections. The cheeses used to top these gourmet creations have branched out from plain shredded mozzarella, too. Options like smoked Gouda, Mascarpone, Brie, Raspberry Bellavitano and Gorgonzola are several flavorful and unique cheese choices. Of course, the finishing touches can turn a pizza into a masterpiece; for example, black bean-corn salsa, white truffle oil, a spicy chili sauce  or fresh herbs will instantly upgrade any ordinary pizza into something spectacular. The range of specialty pizzas available is staggering, from a SPAM™ pizza that was once found at Pablo’s Pizza in Montana, to the elegant, like the Taleggio and Vin Santo Roasted Grape Pizza menued at La Madia. 

Along with upscale offerings, pizza also is trending toward authenticity. The birthplace of pizza is widely regarded as Naples, Italy, and this thin pizza with sparse toppings is such an important aspect to the culture of Naples that it has become regulated by Italian law. To be a true Neapolitan pizza, the pizza must be round and no larger than 35 centimeters (or 13.8in) in diameter. The dough must be made with specific types of flour, salt and yeast and is required to be kneaded by hand. The toppings must be of the highest quality, and essential ingredients include extra virgin olive oil, Mount Vesuvius tomatoes, and traditional buffalo mozzarella, all specified by the Italian legislation. Finally, the pizza must be cooked in a wood-fired oven at no less than 905°F. This is an extreme example of preserving authenticity, but it is aimed at restoring and preserving the integrity of true Neapolitan pizza and the tradition associated with the pizza and the region. 

Bold flavors are also impacting the pizza industry. Many chains across the U.S. are promoting “wood-fired,” “stone-baked” or “hearth ovens” as a way to distinguish their pizza. One example is Bossa Nova; the restaurant specializes in wood oven pizzas and bold flavor profiles, such as their atum (tuna) pizza with homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, special blend Albacore tuna, red onion, green olive and oregano. Even a simple cheese pizza can be upgraded by using flavorful cheeses. Piola (based in Italy, with units in the U.S.) has a Quattro Formaggio pizza with Gorgonzola, Brie, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. Sauces are another great way to add a unique and bold flavor to any pizza. Pizza Express offers a Pollo Pancetta pizza with a unique pepperonata sauce, made from red and yellow peppers; Maddio’s has several specialty sauces, including a Spicy Buffalo sauce. Pesto sauces, white sauces, Asian-style sauces (such as a pineapple teriyaki) all are examples of how sauces can add unique flavors to a pizza profile. Eco Restaurants offer a truly unique pizza called the “Marinara,” featuring King prawns, cuttlefish, mussels, squid, monkfish, swordfish, white wine, mozzarella, fresh herbs and a lobster bisque sauce, combined to create a truly special pizza loaded with rich flavors.

Bold flavors are often linked to ethnic variations, and ethnically flavored pizza offerings are on the rise. While California Pizza Kitchen gave rise to the popularity of Thai Chicken pizza and many other ethnic varieties, this was just the beginning. Brixx Woodfired Pizza offers a fiery Cajun Andouille and Shrimp Pizza, as well as a Jerk Chicken Pizza with a tomato-pineapple salsa. Napoli’s  offers many ethnic ingredients, such as Tandoori chicken, feta cheese, gyro meat and Cajun shrimp. In Japan, the popularity of pizza keeps on growing, although it is modified to suit local tastes. Ingredients such as seaweed, mayonnaise, kimchi, eel and dried fish flakes are found on Japanese pizza menus, but have yet to be incorporated into mainstream American tastes.

Last, but certainly not least, one must not forget dessert. Dessert pizzas have hit the mainstream consumer market. One example is Domino’s recent Oreo™ Pizza, featuring a thin crust layered with vanilla sauce and covered with Oreo cookie crumbles, all topped with a sweet icing drizzle. Fine dining has taken dessert pizzas to an elevated level. For example, Bossa Nova offers two dessert pizzas that are unique. The first is the Banana Special, with fresh banana, mozzarella and cinnamon-sugar; the other is the Brie and Damasco, a decadently sweet dessert pizza with Brie cheese and apricot jam that balances the flavors of sweet and sour perfectly.

Trends in the pizza industry are continually changing, according to consumers’ experiences and demands. This article discussed a few important trends that will continue to grow and change the pizza industry, continuing to bring great-tasting and unique pies to our tables! pf

Chef Allison Rittman, CRC, was one of the first women to become a certified research chef in the U.S. She has over 16 years of experience in the food industry, specializing in product development, national account presentations and culinary trends. Her education includes a degree in culinary arts from The Culinary Institute of America, as well as a B.S. degree in biological sciences from the University of Iowa. Chef Rittman works as the corporate research chef for Paradise Tomato Kitchens, a premier sauce manufacturer, and currently resides in Austin, Texas. She can be reached at 512-992-4501 or allisonr@paradisetomato.com.

Website Resources:
www.PreparedFoods.com -- For several articles, type “pizza” into the search engine
www.wisegeek.com/what-are-different-countries-favorite-pizza-toppings.htm -- Favorite pizza toppings in other countries
www.recipepizza.com/toppings -- Features comprehensive list of pizza toppings, pizza recipes, everything related to pizza
www.pizzamarketplace.com/article.php?id=12804 -- Technomic’s forecast of top pizza trends in 2009
www.usatoday.com/news/world/2004-05-26-pizza-rules_x.htm -- Strict guidelines for Neopolitan pizza