Italian cuisine has developed through centuries of social and political changes, with roots as far back as the 4th century BCE. Italian cuisine in itself takes heavy influences, including Etruscan, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Jewish.
Significant changes occurred with the discovery of the New World with the introduction of items such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and maize, now central to the cuisine but not introduced in quantity until the 18th century. Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is known to be one of the most popular in the world.
Italian cuisine is characterized by its extreme simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation.
The use of olive oil dominates the cuisine of central and southern Italy, whereas butter is more popular in the northern regions.
Ingredients and dishes vary from region to region. Many dishes that were once regional, however, have now been adopted with variations throughout the country.
A great variety of cheeses, affettati (cold cuts) and wines are also a major part of the Italian cuisine, and coffee, specifically espresso, has become very important to Italians.