Real Italians Don’t Use Red Pepper Flakes

The founder and president of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana discusses red pepper flakes and the real way to eat pizza

What's the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana's stance on the use of red pepper flakes?

What’s the right way to make the tomato sauce that goes on the pizzas approved by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN)? First of all, technically it’s not a sauce, but just peeled, crushed tomatoes, and it’s all laid out in very specific detail.

You can use fresh tomatoes as long as they’re the right kind (San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino D.O.P, Pomodorini di Corbara, and Pomodorino del piennolo del Vesuvio D.O.P.). And you can use canned, peeled tomatoes (pomodoro pelato S.Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino D.O.P.) as long as they’re strained, broken up, and homogenized.

Depending on whether you’re making a margherita or marinara (with cheese or without), you ladle "sauce" on and top it with oil, mozzarella or fior di latte, grated cheese, and basil; or just tomato, oil, oregano, and garlic. You wouldn’t want to overpower the flavor of the cheese with oregano and garlic, after all.

Salt? Yes. Red pepper flakes? Absolutely not.

Those are the rules, at least according to the nonprofit organization founded in 1984 by Mr. Antonio Pace. In this interivew, part of a series attempting to solve the mystery of pizza and pepper flakes, Mr. Pace posits that the origins of the American tradition of shaking pepper flakes on pizza come from a corrupted culinary tradition.


Red pepper flakes are found in almost every pizzeria in America. But where did this practice start? Was it something Italians began or is it something first-generation Italian-Americans started? Was it something going on in Italy at the turn of the century?
It is not an Italian habit. Perhaps it was a habit of the first Italians who arrived in America. Many came from Calabria (a region of south Italy) and had the habit of using red pepper flakes in their cuisine.


Today in Italy, do Italians use red pepper flakes on their pizza?
In Italy we don't use red pepper flakes on pizza.


What do Italians think about the use of pepper flakes on pizza?
Some people like it and some don't. It’s a complementary ingredient, so some people ask for it.


Does The Verace Pizza Napoletana Association have a stance on the use of pepper flakes on pizza?
We don't have a particular stance. We believe that as a complementary ingredient, the people who like red pepper flakes should use it as they like, being careful to the rules of gastronomy.


Are pepper flakes ever approved as part of the sauce for pizza?
Red pepper flakes are not used in the sauce for pizza, and actually, the sauce for pizza is not a sauce, but just peeled, crushed tomatoes.


Do you personally use red pepper flakes on your pizza?
I don't like to put red pepper flakes on my pizza.


In New York City, it seems as though pepper flakes have become synonymous with the experience of eating a slice. Do you have any comment on this tradition?
As with many other culinary traditions in America, this is a corruption of the culinary traditions imported by the first Italians who emigrated there. But it now seems as though when it comes to pizza in the United States, times are changing. These corrupted culinary traditions are being corrected, and people have started to follow the true tradition of making Neapolitan pizza.

Read more from this series of interviews with prominent pizzaiolos and experts on the question of the origins of the use of red pepper flakes on pizza: When Did Pizza Meet Red Pepper Flakes?