Is There a Difference Between Neapolitan and Margherita Pizza?

  • By: Mike
  • Date: September 6, 2023
  • Time to read: 9 min.

Neapolitan vs Margherita pizza – two iconic pizza styles synonymous with Italy. But what exactly is the difference between traditional Neapolitan pizza and Margherita pizza?

While there is some overlap, Neapolitan and Margherita pizza are considered two distinct styles. In this article, we’ll explore the key differences including origins, ingredients, preparation methods, flavors, appearances and more.

We’ll also cover how authentic Neapolitan and Margherita pizza are defined and certified. Let’s compare these two famous Italian pizza types in detail so you know exactly what sets them apart.

a man making pizza in the late 1880's

Origins and History of Neapolitan vs Margherita Pizza

Neapolitan and Margherita pizza originate from the same region of Italy but have distinct creation stories and histories.

Origins of Neapolitan Pizza

Neapolitan pizza traces its origins to Naples, Italy. Food historians agree that what we recognize as modern pizza emerged from street food vendors in Naples beginning in the late 1700s through the 1800s.

After Italy unified, Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889. During this visit, she was introduced to a traditional Neapolitan pizza which brought the dish into greater popularity.

The traditional Neapolitan pizza style developed as a regional specialty of the Naples area. It eventually achieved Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Union to protect the cultural tradition and prevent imitations.

Authentic Neapolitan pizza can only be made using ingredients, techniques, and recipes protected and defined under this status.

Origins of Margherita Pizza

While Neapolitan pizza overall traces its origins as a regional dish of Naples, Margherita pizza is named after the specific pizza said to be served to Queen Margherita during her 1889 visit.

According to legend, the pizza chef Raffaele Esposito from Pizzeria di Pietro baked three pizzas – one with basil, one with mozzarella, and one with tomato.

The red, white, and green toppings were chosen to represent the colors of the Italian flag in honor of Italy’s Queen Margherita.

The Queen reportedly loved the pizza, which then became known as Pizza Margherita. While this specific story may mix truth and myth, it does represent the first well-known documentation of a pizza with tomato, mozzarella, and basil toppings.

This combination created the template for what’s now considered the classic Margherita pizza.

So in summary, Neapolitan pizza traces its origins more broadly to Naples, while Margherita pizza traces its origins to the specific lore of Queen Margherita’s tasting of a pizza made specially for her.

Ingredients of Neapolitan vs Margherita Pizza

Neapolitan pizza and Margherita pizza rely on a similar base set of ingredients with a few key differences.

Neapolitan Pizza Ingredients

For a pizza to be considered authentic Neapolitan style, regulations govern which ingredients are permitted. These include:

  • Dough: Must use Neapolitan “00” wheat flour, yeast, salt and water. No other flours or ingredients may be used in the dough.
  • Cheese: Fresh mozzarella made from the milk of Mediterranean Italian buffalo is required, not factory produced. No other cheeses may be used.
  • Tomatoes: Only hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes grown in specific regions can be used. No tomato paste, puree or pre-crushed canned tomatoes allowed.
  • Basil: Fresh basil leaves. Dried basil is not permitted.
  • Olive Oil: Extra virgin olive oil of Italian origin with a medium fruity aroma.
  • Yeast: Fresh cake yeast or natural yeast is required. Active dry yeast is prohibited.
  • Salt: Fine grain sea salt or rock salt. No iodized table salt.
  • Water: Clean drinking water.

Since Neapolitan pizza is strictly defined, no other toppings or ingredients can be added and be considered true Neapolitan style.

Margherita Pizza Ingredients

Margherita pizza uses similar base ingredients as Neapolitan pizza but is not held to the same strict regulations. The traditional ingredients include:

  • Dough: Flour, yeast, salt and water, though not restricted to 00 wheat flour. Sometimes oil is added as well.
  • Cheese: Fresh mozzarella, but not limited only to water buffalo milk. Cow milk mozzarella is also common.
  • Sauce: Pureed tomatoes or tomato sauce instead of hand crushed.
  • Olive Oil: Not restricted to Italian olive oils.
  • Herbs: Fresh basil leaves.
  • Yeast: Active dry yeast more commonly used along with other leaveners like baking powder.
  • Salt: Either fine sea salt or iodized table salt.
  • Water: Any drinking water.

In addition to the core ingredients above, recipes for Margherita pizza can incorporate small amounts of additional ingredients like garlic, sugars or seasonings that make the flavor profile less strictly traditional Neapolitan.

The key takeaway is that Margherita pizza uses similar base ingredients but is not bound to the strict regulations that apply to certified Neapolitan pizza. This allows more flexibility and innovation in Margherita recipes.

Preparation Methods for Neapolitan vs Margherita Pizza

In addition to ingredients, proper Neapolitan and Margherita pizza rely on specific methods of dough preparation and baking.

Neapolitan Pizza Preparation

To achieve the required soft, chewy, charred crust, Neapolitan pizza dough must be:

  • Hand mixed and kneaded
  • Proved at room temperature for 6-12 hours to allow natural yeast fermentation.
  • Formed by hand into a round shape; rolling pins or mechanical presses prohibited.
  • Topped with ingredients leaving a 1⁄2” border to form a raised edge “cornicione”.
  • Cooked for 60-90 seconds in a 485°C+ (905°F) domed wood-fired oven.

This strict adherence to traditional preparation creates the unique soft and pliable texture topped with bubbling cheese and charred edges that characterize true Neapolitan pizza.

Margherita Pizza Preparation

While still requiring care, Margherita pizza recipes allow for more flexibility and modern convenience in preparation:

  • Dough can be hand mixed or made in stand mixers
  • Shorter 1-3 hour proofs at room temperature are common
  • Rolled or pressed into shape with or without a cornicione crust
  • Topped all the way to edges or with smaller sauce border
  • Baked in any oven, wood-fired, brick, conveyor belt or home ovens
  • Lower baking temperatures around 500°F
  • Less focus on charring/blistering characteristics

With fewer constraints on tools, proof times, temperatures and methods, Margherita pizzas can be more widely produced using modern appliances and techniques while still paying homage to traditional practice.

Flavor Profiles of Neapolitan vs Margherita Pizza

The specific ingredients and methods involved in Neapolitan and Margherita pizza preparation influence their distinctive flavor profiles.

Neapolitan Pizza Flavors

Certified Neapolitan pizza delivers a unique harmony of flavors and textures:


Soft, chewy,charred dough with yeasty flavor. The lower protein 00 flour creates a tender, foldable crust.


Fresh, creamy, slightly tangy mozzarella made from richer buffalo milk. Melts and browns without becoming rubbery.


Bright, acidic, concentrated tomato flavors from fresh San Marzano tomatoes. No underlying sweetness.


Fragrant, herbal layer contributed by fresh basil leaves.

Olive Oil

Fruity, peppery, rich extra virgin olive oil that permeates the crust.

When done right, these elements combine for an incredible sensory experience of flavors and aromas true to Neapolitan pizza’s heritage.

Margherita Pizza Flavors

While still delicious, Margherita pizza offers some subtle but noticeable differences in flavor:


More varied in texture from soft to crisp. Wider range of flours creates less uniform doughs.


Cow milk mozzarella has a more neutral, milky flavor vs tangy buffalo milk. Processed mozzarella lacks depth.


Wider range of sweetness, acidity, and spice depending on tomatoes used. Less uniformity.


Dried basil variation changes herbal notes.

Olive Oil

Variability in olive oil quality influences overall flavor.

With fewer constraints on ingredients, the flavors of Margherita pizza can be great but have more variability. The traditional Neapolitan harmony of flavors is harder to consistently achieve.

Appearance of Neapolitan vs Margherita Pizza

When perfectly executed, both Neapolitan and Margherita pizza deliver visual appeal. But there are some subtle differences in their classic presentation and plating.

Neapolitan Pizza Appearance

A textbook Neapolitan pizza should exhibit:

  • Evenly charred edges and leopard spotting across the crust from 90 second bake at 900°F+
  • Saggy, floppy center with a raised “cornicione” edge that puffs when spun
  • Brilliant white mozzarella blobs that spread out evenly over sauce
  • Bright red crushed tomato sauce with no pooling at center
  • A sprinkling of vibrant green basil leaves over top
  • Liberal drizzle of golden olive oil over entire pizza

This consistent look matches the traditional pies first baked in Naples and provides visual indicators the methods and ingredients have been done right.

Margherita Pizza Appearance

While mimicking the same overall red, white and green color pattern, Margherita pizza allows for more variability in plating and presentation:

  • Less focus on leopard spotting and char patterns
  • Varying crust thickness and texture based on recipe
  • Cheese and sauce spread to the edge or left bare
  • No requirement for a raised cornicione crust
  • More flexibility in cheese, sauce, basil distribution
  • Less olive oil drizzle over the top

Margherita pizza makers have more leeway to put their own spin on appearance within the overall template of the red, white and green motif. This provides room for innovation and creativity.

Certification and Verification of Authenticity

To protect the tradition and verify authenticity, independent organizations offer certification and trademark protections for Neapolitan and Margherita pizza.

Certifying Neapolitan Pizza

To receive official certification and use protected branding, Neapolitan pizza must strictly meet standards defined by the:

Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana

An Italian non-profit that protects and promotes traditional Neapolitan pizza. Pizzerias must pass extensive inspection to be certified and use the “Verace Pizza Napoletana” trademark.

European Union Protected Designation of Origin

Neapolitan pizza’s PDO status means it can only legally be called “Neapolitan pizza” if prepared according to EU regulations within a protected geographical region.

These stringent certifications ensure authentic Neapolitan pizza follows exact recipes and methods to preserve the cultural tradition.

Margherita Pizza Verification

Margherita pizza does not have defined protected status and cannot be officially certified like Neapolitan pizza. However, some organizations promote standards:

Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana

Their rules allow Margherita pizza to deviate from Neapolitan regulations while encouraging use of high quality ingredients and preparation consistent with tradition.

Verace Pizza

An Italian company that trains and verifies pizzerias internationally on standards for Neapolitan, Margherita and other Italian pizza types through workshops and master classes.

Margherita pizza recipes cannot be trademarked but encouraging traditional techniques helps pizza makers deliver an authentic end product.

Key Differences Summary

In summary, while Neapolitan and Margherita pizza share Italian heritage and basic ingredients, they diverge when it comes to:


Neapolitan pizza has broad regional roots where Margherita pizza traces to a specific legend.


Neapolitan pizza adheres to strict regulations while Margherita allows more flexibility.


From dough to baking, Neapolitan methods are defined whereas Margherita allows modernization.


Neapolitan offers consistent traditional harmony while Margherita is more variable.


Neapolitan exhibits specific visual standards that Margherita does not require.


Only Neapolitan has protected legal status and certification in Italy.

So while Margherita draws inspiration from Neapolitan traditions, it ultimately represents a more flexible interpretation of the classic wood-fired pizza Naples is known for.

Making the Best Margherita Pizza at Home

Want to get as close as possible to delicious authentic Margherita pizza at home? Here are some tips:

  • Use high protein bread flour for an airy, chewy crust
  • Allow dough to cold ferment 48 hours to develop flavor
  • Mix in some Italian “00” flour for tenderness
  • Spread crushed canned San Marzano tomatoes for sauce
  • Top with fresh mozzarella and basil right before baking
  • Cook pizza on a pizza stone or steel at highest oven temp
  • Finish with a drizzle of Italian extra virgin olive oil

With the right homemade dough and high quality ingredients, you can create incredible Margherita pizza without the need for specialty equipment or certification. What matters most is using the best recipes and techniques to make this Italian classic sing.

Experience the Difference at an Authentic Pizzeria

To truly appreciate the nuances between Neapolitan, Margherita and other regional pizza styles, enjoying them freshly baked at a certified pizza restaurant is ideal.

Look for a Verace Pizza Napoletana certified pizzeria in your area to taste how incredible authentic Neapolitan pizza can be.

Or visit a quality Italian restaurant with a wood-fired oven and expertise crafting Margherita pizzas full of flavor. With the right pizzaiolo making your pizza, you’ll taste the difference these traditions make.

So now that you know exactly how Neapolitan and Margherita pizza differ, you can better appreciate what makes each one unique.

Next time you’re craving incredible Italian pizza, use this guide to get the style you’re looking for.

Whether you’re in the mood for strict Neapolitan or more flexible Margherita, your knowledge of pizza tradition will ensure delicious bites.

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