What is Paprika?

Like all capsicums, the paprika varieties are native to South America. Originally a tropical plant, it can now grow in cooler climates. In Europe, Hungary and Spain are the two main centres for growing paprika peppers, though these varieties have evolved into much milder forms than their tropical ancestors.

Hungarian paprika is known as stronger and richer than Spanish paprika, which is quite mild, though through controlled breeding they are becoming more alike. To maintain the stronger taste that consumers expect, some spice companies add cayenne to heat up Hungarian paprika. It is also produced and used in Turkey, Yugoslavia and the United States.

The Spanish grades of pimentón are dolce (sweet), agridulce (semi sweet) and picante (hot). It is also graded for quality, depending on the proportion of flesh to seeds and pith. In Hungary there as six classes ranging from Kulonleges (exquisite delicate) to Eros (hot and pungent).

Commercial food manufacturers use paprika in cheeses, processed meats, tomato sauces, chili powders and soups. Its main purpose is to add colour. If a food item is coloured red, orange or reddish brown and the label lists ‘Natural Colour’, it is likely paprika.

Spice Description

Paprika is a fine powder ground from certain varieties of Capsicum annuum which vary in size and shape. They may be small and round (Spain and Morocco) or pointed and cone shaped (Hungary and California). They are larger and milder than chilli peppers. Paprika is produces from peppers ripened to redness, sometimes called ‘pimento’, the same as used to stuff olives. The powder can vary in colour from bright red to rusty brown.

Bouquet: slightly warm and sweet
Flavour: ranges from sweet and mild to pungent and fiery.
Hotness Scale: 2-7

Preparation and Storage

Paprika deteriorates quickly, so it should be purchased in small quantities and kept in airtight containers away from sunlight.

Cooking with Paprika

Paprika is intimately associated with Hungarian cuisine especially paprikash and goulash. Many spiced sausages incorporate it, including the Spanish chorizos. Paprika is often used as a garnish, spinkled on eggs, hors d’ouvres and salads for colour. It spices and colours cheeses and cheese spreads, and is used in marinades and smoked foods.

It can be incorporated in the flour dusting for chicken and other meats. Many Spanish, Portuguese and Turkish recipes use paprika for soups, stews, casseroles and vegetables. In India paprika is sometimes used in tandoori chicken, to give the characteristic red colour. Paprika is an emulsifier, temporarily bonding with oil and vinegar to make a smooth mixture for a salad dressing.

Paprika substitutes

“The Cook’s Thesaurus” recommends substituting cayenne pepper, a ground hot red pepper, for sweet paprika. While the red coloring stays the same, cayenne pepper has a hotter flavor. Depending on your recipe and personal spice tolerance, you might want to decrease the amount of cayenne used to replace sweet paprika. Replace each 1 tbsp. of sweet, smoked paprika in a recipe with 1 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika and 1 1/2 tsp. cumin. This will lack the smokiness but mimic the sweet heat of Spanish Paprika, pimenton dulce. Add a pinch of ground chipotle powder to mimic smoked paprika.

Smoked Paprika

The colour is a striking deep red that spreads through any dish to which it is added. It has an intoxicating smoky aroma from the slow oak smoking, and a silky texture from the repeated grinding between stones. And because three different peppers are grown and smoked, there are three different delicious flavours – sweet, bittersweet and hot.

The smoked paprika from La Vera was the world’s first pepper spice to be given a Denominación de Origen status in 1993. We’ve tried many smoked paprikas, many are excellent but we recommend the Spanish La Chinata brand, They have a 3-pack of sweet, bittersweet and hot. You can buy smoked paprika here. Use it wherever regular paprika is called for or where you want that extra depth of flavour the smoking provides. Some more suggestions:

  • Put some thick Greek yoghurt in a shallow dish, drizzle it liberally with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle well with bittersweet smoked paprika. Use as a dip with drinks.
  • Quickly fry 2 chopped cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika and a bay leaf quickly in a little extra virgin olive oil. Add a splash of wine vinegar and some chopped red onion and toss it with boiled Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, broccolini or broccoflower.
  • Add a little sweet smoked paprika to a vinaigrette and toss it through a salad.
  • Rub a chicken all over, inside and out, with hot smoked paprika for a spicy roast chicken.
  • Slowly fry waxy potatoes, sliced onions and chopped garlic in olive oil and a little sweet smoked paprika, season well and serve with roast lamb.
  • Rub skinned boned firm white fish fillets with a mixture of 2 tablespoons of sweet smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the juice of a lemon, dust with flour and fry in hot olive oil until golden

Health Benefits of Paprika

Fresh red peppers have more than seven times as much vitamin C as oranges, but the very high heat of modern drying destroys much of the vitamin C in paprika. It is however, an excellent source of betacarotene, that the body converts to vitamin A.

Plant Description and Cultivation

An erect herbaceous annual, not found in the wild, with densely branched stem, reaching .5 to 1.5 m (20 – 60 in). The lower portion of the plant is often woody. The leaves are placed alternately, and are dark green on the top side and lighter underneath. Single white flowers bear the fruit which is green when unripe, changing to red, brown or purple. Only red-ripening fruits are used for paprika. The varieties used in Spain are called Ramilette, Tres Cascos, Bola and Albar. The seeds are sown under glass in early spring and later transplanted to a sunny and sheltered site with rich, well drained soil. They are harvested from August through September.

Other Names

Hungarian Pepper, Pimento Pepper

French piment
German: Paprika
Italian: paprica
Spanish: pimentón, pimiento
Hungarian: paprika

Image by Devanath from Pixabay