Maccheroni – Italian or Greek?

This is a postscript to my article “Passionate about Pasta” and in answer to a food writer I rate highly.

The word has caused much discussion over the centuries. Is it Greek? Is it Latin? I investigated and began with Larousse as I usually do. According to them the word comes from the Italian maccherone,  meaning fine paste. I know it as a dry, usually machine made pasta, shorter than rigatoni and hollow, containing no eggs. Some great food scholars have tried to relate it to the Greek word, makaria (a barley broth) and some to the Italian ammaccare, “to bruise or crush” as when wheat is crushed to make pasta, bread or flour – and which comes from the Latin macerare.  Herewith an excerpt from the Etymonline website:

1599, from southern It. dialect maccaroni (It. maccheroni), pl. of *maccarone, possibly from maccare “bruise, batter, crush,” of unknown origin, or from late Gk. makaria “food made from barley.” Used after c.1764 to mean “fop, dandy” (the “Yankee Doodle” reference) because it was an exotic dish at a time when certain young men who had traveled the continent were affecting Fr. and It. fashions and accents. There is said to have been a Macaroni Club in Britain, which was the immediate source of the term.
1611, form of verse consisting of vernacular words in a Latin context with Latin endings; applied loosely to verse in which two or more languages are jumbled together; from Mod.L. macaronicus (coined 1517 by Teofilo Folengo), from It. dial. maccarone (see macaroni), in allusion to the mixture of words in the verse: “quoddam pulmentum farina, caseo, botiro compaginatum, grossum, rude, et rusticanum” [Folengo].

At the end I read some more and looked at the meanings of the words, when they were used, what they were used for and whether or when the words themselves had gone into disuse.  The only logical, unemotional conclusion one can draw is that the maccheroni we know today is a pasta that that originated in Italy.  Sorry to the Greeks, I did give it a bash, but our beaten paste beats your soup.



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5 responses to “Maccheroni – Italian or Greek?

  1. Ricetta brillante, quel condimento lo userei per i palmarielli lucani.

  2. Grazie mille – sono anche buoni semplicemente al pomodoro in cui va cucinata una bella frittata agli asparagi, per dare sapore al ragù!
    Thanks very much – they are also good simply with a tomato sauce to be served with an asparagus omelette to compliment the the sauce.

  3. Ha! Good riposte, but in point of fact, the “barley soup” is not not an accurate translation of the original Greek. The original Greek says that the food known as ‘makaria’ is made with “a sauce and barley meal” which sounds an awful lot more like pasta (which is also a Greek word) than a “smashed paste”… 🙂 Furthermore, there is also the matter of lasagna (another word of Greek origin) which is also a good indication of the origin of pasta dishes which are often thought of as Italian. So, methinks that it is not coincidence that “macaroni” is also derived from the Greek “makaria”, after all, it it were only the “macaroni” you might have a case, but there’s also the matter of “pasta” and “lasagna” to explain away and I don’t think there is much wiggle room there… 😉

  4. Sam, I am stuck! I have tried to find the word ‘makaria’ in the ancient Greek!

    Even with professional help to look in the ancient Greek dictionaries at my disposal (since I have no knowledge of either Greek or Ancient Greek) I was unsuccessful! You would have to give me your source documents. Our local university does not seem to have the correct lexicons for me to answer the word.

    It simply is not possible merely to use the word’s root because that specific root could then be the basis of thousands of other words in other languages or vice versa – even if one looks at it historically there is no relief there.

    I look forward to receiving info regarding your source documents. 🙂

  5. I’ll take a bowl whoever is making – Greek or Italian.

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