Home Today Is The Inventor Of The Meatball Is Unknown But Chinese Recipes Date Back...

The Inventor Of The Meatball Is Unknown But Chinese Recipes Date Back To 221 BC

Updated March 4, 2024

On March 9th we recognize one of the great American food holidays, National Meatball Day.  It is not clear how this day got started.

  • 221 BC – In China, there is a record of a recipe that can date back to 221 BC!
  • Meatballs can be made the night before and put in the crockpot, or days before and kept in the freezer
  • 1st Century – In “Apicius,” a collection of Roman recipes, the meatball features several times.
  • 1754 – Meatballs even made it into Sweden, noted in a 1754 cookbook by Cajsa Warg. They were served with a cream-based gravy and lingonberry preserves. Buttered noodles also became a popular side item, and nowadays are thought of as the expected accompaniment for Swedish meatballs.
  • 1880 – Italian immigrants introduce spaghetti and meatballs to Americans.
  • 20th Century – The meatball sandwich, an Italian-American fusion, is created.
  • There are many times in history that meatballs have been recorded in culinary records. In Turkey, there is a dish called kofte which has many different variations.
  • Ancient Rome can add a claim to meatballs as there is a surviving cookbook that holds a variety of recipes with balls of meat.
  • No one knows for sure where the first meatball came from, however, recipes for meatballs from the time of the Romans exist as evidence in an ancient recipe book written by Marcus Gavius Apicus (aka Apicius), who was born in 25 AD. His book is called “De re coquinaria libri decem (Cuisine in Ten Books)”. Book II is devoted to “minces”, or mixtures of meat and other ingredients.
  • The meatball has also been found in other parts of the world. Acquiring the name kofta (possibly from the Persian word koffteh, meaning pounded meat),
  • Meatballs are known in Asian, Middle Eastern and North African cooking.
  • During the dark time of the Spanish Inquisition, meatballs, or albondigas, were made with pork and other ground meats, then served to Jews who were secretly trying to pass as Christian converts. When the host announced the true contents of the non-Kosher meatballs, if any guests refused to eat those meatballs, or spit them out, they were immediately arrested and prosecuted (or worse).
  • Interestingly, the northern Scandinavian countries, as well as northern Sweden, would’ve considered meatballs a luxury item, since beef and other meats were (and still are) scarce in those regions. Furthermore, until the invention of the meat grinder, preparation of meatballs was too laborious of a process for common folk. Thus, Swedish meatballs were served mainly at festive occasions/holidays.
  • Eventually, Swedish meatballs were “imported” to America, along with the Swedish immigrants themselves. Many of those immigrants settled in America’s northern and Midwestern states, which helps explain the popularity of meatballs in America’s Great Midwest.
  • Italian immigrants also brought along their own meatball  recipes, many of which had evolved according to family tradition. They were not initially served with spaghetti, but alone. Likewise, spaghetti was also served alone. The two forces came together in order to appease American clients, who frequented Italian restaurants and wanted meat served alongside their pasta dishes.
  • Some countries have found inventive ways for preparing/serving meatballs. In Afghanistan, meatballs are now grilled and placed on top of pizza.
  • Japan makes a hamburger steak, called hanbâgu, that is basically a larger, flatter, meatball.
  • Grecian meatballs are fried, and usually include finely diced onion and mint leaf within the meat.
  • Indonesian meatballs are served in a bowl, with noodles, beancurd, eggs, and possibly fried meat to boot.
  • In Albania, meatballs often come as a mixture of feta cheese and meat.
  • Polish meatballs (golabki) are huge, about the size of large oranges, and include rice. They are served in steamed cabbage leaves, usually in a tomato sauce.
  • Turkey boasts over 80 types of meatballs, each type made just a bit differently according to its region of origin.
  • Italian meatballs, known as polpette, are consumed as the main course or part of a soup.
  • The World’s Largest Meatball Was Made in South Carolina. The Italian-American Club of Hilton Head Island, SC, took the record in November of 2017 with a massive 1757 pound meatball that took a year of planning to create. Special equipment had to be custom-made and it took a week to cook the meatball, and Guinness World Records was there to make it official. Most of the staggering meatball went to local programs to feed the hungry. That’s a lotta meatball! Watch a short video about this meatball.


National Day Calendar

Days of the Year

Center of the Plate

National Today