You’ve seen it sprinkled on deviled eggs and maybe been lucky enough to have tasted a hotter variety or a smoked variety, but just what the heck is paprika?
Let’s go back a few centuries.
The discovery of the “New World” lead explorers to meet new cultures, cuisines and of course spices. One of the many discoveries was the pepper, which only grows in North and South America. Capsicum Annuum is the scientific term for what we call in English, bell peppers or sweet peppers. There are a myriad of peppers out there and as the Capsicum Annuum spread across the world, new breeds of pepper arose. The “Old World” adapted the peppers readily into cuisines from France to China, India and south through Africa.
Paprika is made from air dried and ground Capsicum Annuum. Traditionally, the blend of peppers are all similar with varieties that are hotter or sweeter. Spanish and Hungarian varieties of paprika are the most well-known however, other countries such as Peru, China, The US and even the Netherlands have begun exporting the fine red spice.
Hungarian paprika tends to be a bit more orange than red but with significant flavor. In older villages, one could see fences and fences lined with the dried peppers strung up waiting to be ground with mortar and pestle. Commonly, Hungarian paprika tends to be a bit sweeter and never smoked.
Spanish paprika, also called Pimentón, comes in a variety of heat levels. One of the Spanish varieties of paprika is dried and smoked over oak wood for approximately two weeks delivering a deep intense flavor perfect for dishes in which you want a “grilled” flavor.
Because of its unique color, paprika had been grown for its color rather than its taste leading to a lackluster result but bold red dishes. California paprika is one such variant. Another popular use is as a thickening agent due to its powdered texture. Tomato soup can be thickened with paprika for a flavorful spin.
Paprika can be found in everything from Basque Chorizo to Ras el hanout and of course deviled eggs. With so many tastes available to you, it’s time to head back to your spice cabinet and taste your paprika. If it’s dull and lifeless, it’s time for an upgrade.