A Taste of Paprika

By M.K. Albus

When we think of paprika we tend to think of Europe where it is a widely used spice. Hungarian paprika may be the most famous as it is the predominant spice used in Hungarian cooking. But it is also widely used in Spain, Turkey, all the Balkan countries, as well as the rest of Europe. It is also a common spice in Morocco and it is used often in India as a coloring agaent.

But paprika was unheard of in Europe until after Christopher Columbus opened up the wonders of the Americas to the rest of the world. Paprika is made from dried ground peppers and peppers (capsicums) are native to the Western Hemisphere. It was the Spanish who first brought pepper seeds back to Spain where they were grown and the fruit was dried and ground into a powder called pimenton.

It was not long before seeds made their way to Turkey and from there throughout the Ottoman Empire. It was in the early 1600's that peppers were introduced to Hungary and within a century paprika was a common spice, but it was only eaten by peasants. It was not until the 1800's that the noble classes adopted it.

Paprika is the main ingredient in Hungarian gulasch as well as many Hungarian veal and chicken dishes and goose or duck porkolt. In Spain it is an essential ingredient in the widely used romesco sauce and it is used to flavor fish, potato dishes, and omelettes. It is also used in sofrito, a mixture of onions and other ingredients that is fried in olive oil and used as base for slow-cooked dishes. In Morocco paprika is used in a marinade called chermoula that is used for fish dishes.

Spanish, Portuguese, and Moroccan paprika are very similar and they are not as hot as the paprika used in Hungary and the Balkans. American paprika is the very mildest.

Depending on the types of peppers used and the amount of veins and ground seeds used, paprika can be bittersweet, sweet, or hot. It is important never to overheat paprika as then it becomes bitter. That is one reason it is so popular in slow-cooked meals.

Paprika combines well with saffron, thyme, turmeric, rosemary, parsly, oregano, ginger, caraway, cardamom, and garlic. It also goes well with sour cream and yogurt. It is used to flavor practically all meats and goes well with rice and especially potatos.

There are around a dozen different kinds of European paprika and they are generally designated by the region in which the peppers were grown. Hungary, Spain, and the Balkans are the main growing regions.

There is no single paprika pepper. Various paprikas are made from different red peppers. Making your own paprika is not difficult. Let the fruits dry and then separate the flesh from the seeds and veins. Separately grind both into a fine powder. Since most of the hotness is in the veins and seeds, you then add an amount of the ground seeds and veins into the ground flesh that is proportionate to how hot you want the paprika to be. When storing paprika be sure to keep it in an airtight container away from light as light diminishes the potency and vibrancy of the paprika.

M.K. Albus is a freelance writer who writes for Culinary McCook and other websites.
See other articles by M. K. Albus: Using Roses in the Kitchen - The Wonders of Kale - Dogs and Nuts Are Not a Good Mix - Food and Vibration - Dad's Apple Pandowdy

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