Meatballs: A Brief History and Fun Facts

Who doesn’t love a good meatball? A versatile and delicious meat mixture packed into a fun, ball-shaped food, meatballs are one of the great gifts of the food world.

Here is a little history and some fun facts about these glorious orbs of meat.

Meatballs Through Time

Ground meat is much more commonplace today thanks to the invention of the meat grinder in the 1800’s. Previous to this, meat had to be manually minced up using a knife, a laborious and time-consuming practice.

This, however, didn’t prevent meatballs from showing up early in modern history. The Roman cookbook Apicius from the fifth century CE included many meatball recipes. Arab cookbooks from that time also included meatball recipes, making the Middle East and Mediterranean region the likely origin point for the meatball.

Since then, meatballs have become part of cuisines all around the world. You can find meatballs at high-end restaurants and in the most humble of homes.

Meatballs can be made with a large variety and even combinations of meats. From beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, to even seafood, meatballs can be made from whatever protein is readily available.

Meatballs also usually contain a filler and a binder. Eggs are the most common binder, adding both moisture and protein to hold the meatball together.

Fillers are often starches such as breadcrumbs or rice. These fillers add body, smooth texture, and help the meatball hold onto moisture.

Fillers have also played an important role throughout the lean times of history. The fillers, being cheaper and more common than meat, have helped families around the world stretch the meat they have available.

Meatballs of the World

When you think about meatballs, you most likely think about the Italian version with a tomato sauce and some spaghetti.

Thanks to Ikea, maybe the second most popular is the Swedish meatball. Ikea sells over 1 billion meatballs each year.

There are more meatball recipes than there are countries in the world. Here are what meatballs are called around the globe.

Meatball Movie Moments

  • The famous quote “That’s a Spicy Meatball” came from a 1969 Alka Seltzer commercial. This saying was later used by Jim Carrey in the 1994 movie “The Mask”
  • The 1979 film “Meatballs” was the debut starring role for Bill Murray. Harold Ramis and the director, Ivan Reitman, would also team up with Murray on the movies “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters”
  • “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” came out in 2009 starring the voices of Bill Hader and Anna Faris. The movie and the sequel are based on the 1978 book of the same name by Judi Barrett.
  • Meatballs, the important part of culture that they are, have shown up as parts of many movies. In the 1955 Disney classic, “Lady and the Tramp”, the iconic scene features the two dogs share a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

Meatball Fun Facts

  • National Meatball day is March 9th
  • The Guinness World Record for largest meatball was accomplished in 2017 in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Several feet in diameter, It weighed in at 1,707 pounds 8 ounces. The large meatball required a custom cooking cage and oven and took 5 days to cook through.
  • The most Ikea meatballs eaten in a minute is 29, accomplished by¬†Takeru Kobayashi¬† in 2010.
  • Spaghetti with meatballs, while largely considered an Italian food, was created and popularized in the United States by Italian immigrants in the early 1900’s.

Stay tuned for more fun with Meatballs!

John and Sarah Gilbert farm with their family in North Central Iowa. They care for pigs, cows, and the land to bring you beef and pork you can love. They have a passion for cooking and helping others develop the skills they need to put healthy and delicious home-cooked meals on the table. They can be contacted by email and through Facebook and Instagram.