What the heck is paprika anyhow? It is the 4th most used spice in the world, chosen as a way to add vibrant color and flavor depth. Paprika is made by grinding the dried pods of the larger and sweeter varieties of capsicum annuum (pepper) plants.
Pepper plants grow best in tropical climates and paprika was originally made in South America and the West Indies. It was brought to Europe by explorers in the 1500s and now Spain and Hungary are the largest producers in the world.
Paprika is very famous in Hungary, used in almost all dishes. There is a paprika museum in the town of Kalosca, Hungary and they host an annual Paprika Festival every October. During paprika season, villages all over Europe are decorated with millions of hanging peppers being dried after harvest.
There are many different paprikas based on where they are made and how they are prepared. A crowd favorite is smoked paprika for the deep, smoky flavor it imparts into any type of cuisine. Spanish paprika, also known as pimentón, tends to be weaker in flavor than the robust Hungarian paprika, which can also be broken down into ‘dulce’ (sweet and mild variety), ‘agridulce’ (bittersweet variety) and ‘picante’ (hot variety). The color can vary from bright red to deep brown.
Paprika is full of vitamins A, C, E, and K as well as antioxidants. The rich color is attributed to the presence of cartenoids which help to improve vision and combat cellular damage. Paprika is known as a stimulant and can help with digestion, depression, cardiovascular health, and to lower blood pressure and promote circulation. It is great for helping to clear the skin and reduce hair loss. It is also used in cosmetics and henna hair dye because of its staining abilities. It is perishable and best stored in a cool, dark place.
Get creative and experiment with different paprika varieties in your dishes!