How do your customers feel after eating your pizza?
Have you ever gone out to eat with the intention of going out afterwards for a night on the town but ended up sluggish and uncomfortable because of the food you ate? I have and it has ruined my night on more than one occasion. In the U.S. pizza is a celebratory food. Growing up it’s the food we eat at parties and gatherings. Pizza is the food we eat to celebrate big accomplishments with friends, but it is always shared. We cut it apart and eat slices as opposed to a whole pie. As kids we have fast metabolisms and can run around no problem while simultaneously eating slice after slice. As adults we stop ourselves at a few slices because of how it makes us feel and because of how our metabolisms have slowed down. We are taught to be a little more conscious of what we consume and how our bodies digest our food. We are taught to be “health conscious”.
In Italy, pizza culture is completely different. In Italy, pizza is not shared. Each person orders a whole single pie to themselves. This may come off as excessive knowing what we do about American pizza culture, but if we take a closer look, it makes sense. Having had the privilege to be immersed in Italian culture and become close to a few Italian families over the years, I’ve learned Italians have an unconscious obsession with digestion. One of my all-time favorite things to do when in Italy is aperitivo. There is an entire culture to just this one act that changes from north to south, but in essence it is a pre-dinner drink and snack that is not just a time for socializing but is meant to prime the stomach for the coming meal. It is meant to get the digestive system moving so that when the main meal is introduced it is easier to digest. After dinner you are then presented with a digestif, an after-dinner drink. Digestifs are meant to help your body digest the meal you just consumed. Fernet-Branca is an amaro created in Milan in 1845. When it was originally invented, it was intended to be consumed as a cure-all for many things. It’s a beverage made up of 27 different herbs and ingredients and was originally meant to be medicinal. Although now it is more of a popular drink in the bar scene, especially in San Francisco, it still remains a go-to option for upset stomachs.
So how is it in a culture that is obsessed with digestion the people are eating entire 12-inch pizzas to themselves? It comes down to a combination of proper fermentation and how the body digests food. Most whole pies you see in Italy are 12 inches or slightly bigger and the dough weighs around 250 grams, as compared to larger dough weights here in the U.S., which is one thing it has going for it. But let’s get down to brass tacks here. What happens to our food when we eat?
Since pizza is primarily composed of carbohydrates with a smaller amount of other ingredients on top, let’s just focus on the dough. Inside our dough alfa and beta amylase enzymes break down complex sugars into simple sugars. Carbohydrates are known as complex sugars because they are made up of three or more sugar molecules that form a long strand. These sugars are harder for your body to break down and digest. Simple sugars like fruit are easier for your body to digest and break down. As adults we start to hear more and more from our doctors to stay away from complex carbohydrates and to eat low carb diets.
When we eat bread, digestion starts immediately. While we chew, the same alfa amylase that is found in fermentation is also found in our saliva. At the same time our teeth are mashing and breaking down the food into smaller pieces, our saliva has already started breaking down complex sugars into simple sugars. This is just the beginning. If our saliva alone could do all the work, I’d be eating pizza every day. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As soon as the bread passes into our stomach, the major breakdown of sugars happens. Some of the sugars go to our intestines and liver but a lot of sugar ends up in our bloodstream. As our blood sugar rises, the pancreas produces insulin so that the blood sugar can be stored as energy. Our bodies burn simple sugars the quickest and complex sugars more slowly. This is why athletes tend to carbo load before events (complex sugars are considered a slow burn energy source). The body stores it and burns it off more slowly, sustaining them through intense activity. For athletes, carbohydrates are an effective tool; but for the normal person, too many carbohydrates can complicate insulin production resulting in diabetes and other health problems.
When it comes to pizza specifically, fiber is a big factor to consider. We cannot get rid of carbohydrates altogether seeing as flour and dough are the foundation. But if you are looking to create a dough that is “healthier” and more easily digestible, fiber is key. In flour, fiber is primarily located in the bran and the germ. Fiber is what makes us feel full for longer periods of time, and by using types of flour like “0” and “1 & 2” the flour will contain more fiber. Type “00” flour, although a very common pizza flour, has all of the bran and germ taken out of it. Combining flour with a higher bran and germ content with proper fermentation will always result in a tasty pizza that is more easily digestible.
If the main thing your customers remember is how tasty your product is and not how uncomfortably full and sluggish they felt after eating, they will most likely come back more often than not. As Americans we may not eat an entire pie every time we eat pizza, but it never hurts to have big dreams.
LAURA MEYER is owner of Pizzeria da Laura in Berkeley, CA.