A staple in many restaurants and a favorite in many households, breadsticks first appeared around the 14th century BCE in Turin, Italy. These hard, crunchy, pencil-shaped sticks had the consistency of crackers and would last for days. The trick was to bake them to the desired level of crispy-ness without burning them.
An Alternative History of the Breadstick
Oral tradition has it that in the year 1675, when the young duke, Vittorio Amedeo II of the house of Savoy, was nine years of age, was seriously ill. The duke had been frail since birth and often suffered from intestinal disorders that halted his ability to eat, and thus delayed his physical development. His mother, at her wits end, tasked the court physician with developing a remedy so that her son could eat.
The physician determined that the boy had eaten bread polluted by pathogenic intestinal germs and thus gotten food poisoning. As the tale goes, the physician himself had had similar disorders when he was a boy, and these disorders had been cured by his mother's bread—well-baked, well-leavened crispy bread with very little crumb.
The physician then had the baker reproduce this bread—breadsticks—and the duke recovered, his physical development improved and he went on to become king in 1713. And the crispy grissini became the bread of choice in the Savoy household, which is how it became known and loved by all visiting aristocrats and royalty of the age.
Another, Shorter Alternative History of the Breadstick
There's another historic record that states that in 1643, 32 years prior, a Florentine abbot discovered in a town outside of Turin a new type of bread that had a bizarre shape, a shape that was as long as an arm and as thin as dead bones. Yeah, yummy. Going even farther back in history, there is a reference to a special kind of bread named pane barotellatus, which means stick.
Breadsticks currently come in many forms, from super crispy, thin ones to larger ones often served with spaghetti and used to mop up excess sauce. Unlike the simple designs of the original grissini, modern breadsticks are often seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices.
And what's more, serving breadsticks is considered a necessity with tossed salads, plates of pasta, and even pizza. Modern pizzerias serve hot soft ones with a side of melted butter or pizza sauce. As with most of our foods, the exact origin will likely never be known—but we can take crunchy comfort in the legacy - especially with the convenience of breadsticks delivery.