Paprika is a red colored spice powder that is prepared by grinding dried pods of sweet bell peppers and mild chilli peppers (collectively known as Capsicum annuum). It is generally sweet to mildly spicy with a strong smell. The spice is often used to season, add color, or add flavor to a dish. It is a common ingredient in several European, Mediterranean, and Latin American dishes. Hungarian Goulash is one of the most popular paprika recipes. Apart from the traditional paprika dishes, this spice is also combined with a variety of commercial food products like cheese and sausages to enhance their color. In the US paprika is a common ingredient in BBQ sauces, grilling rubs, and marinades.
History and Culinary Significance of Paprika Dishes
Paprika has been historically associated with Hungary. However, the bell peppers used to prepare the spice originated in Southern Mexico and were introduced to the Western world by Christopher Columbus. Until the early 17th century, bell peppers were used only as ornamental plants. Some historians believe that the ethnic tribes, who were fleeing north from the Turks, introduced paprika recipes to the Balkans. Very soon, Hungary adapted the spice as its own and became the paprika capital of the world. French Chef Escoffier introduced the spice to the rest of the Western World. The US adapted this ingredient into its traditional cooking style only in the mid 19th century.
Varieties of Paprika
The spice is available in grades ranging from very sweet to highly pungent. The commonly used grades of Hungarian Paprika are as follows:
Kulonleges: Special quality spice, with a very sweet taste and a deep, bright red color. Kolonleges paprika recipes include the spice as a coloring agent rather than as a seasoning.
Csemege: Delicate quality spice, with mild pungency and a rich flavor, the color ranges light to dark red.
Edesnemes – A.K.A Noble Sweet, this is the most popular variety found in the US. Edesnemes paprika dishes are characterized by a bright red color and a slightly pungent flavor.
Eros – This light brown in colored spice is the hottest paprika manufactured in Hungary.
Culinary Uses of Paprika
Due to the mildly pungent flavor and rich color of the spice, it is used as both a seasoning agent and a coloring agent in a variety of dishes across the world. It is used as a garnish in several salad recipes like potato salads and deviled eggs. Several food manufacturers add paprika to food products like mayonnaise, sausages, cheese, etc. to enhance its color. Since paprika dishes tend to be less pungent than cayenne pepper or red chilli powder recipes, they are the perfect inclusions for those who dispike heat in their food. The more pungent versions of the spice are used in several traditional paprika recipes for sauces, meat rubs, stir fries, etc.
Paprika Dishes Across the globe
Paprika, though considered as a Hungarian ingredient and recipes for Paparikash and Goulash are the most famous paprika recipes from Hungary; it is used almost throughout the globe as either a coloring or seasoning agent.
European Cuisine: In Spain, Portugal, and Turkey it is used commonly used to spice up soups, stews and casseroles.
India: Indian paprika recipes include recipes for butter chicken and pav bhajee where color is more important than spiciness. It is also used as a substitute for red chilli powder.
USA: Sweeter versions of paprika are more popular here and often used as garnish for salads, eggs, and appetizers.
Nutritive Value of Paprika Dishes
This spice is one of the richest sources of Vitamin C and contains good amounts of antioxidants. It is also a good source of capsaicin, a chemical known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Regular consumption of paprika dishes is purported to help boost immunity.
Paprika Buying and Storage Tips
It is available throughout the year in most grocery stores. Choose the lighter varieties for paprika recipes that require some pungency and bright colored once when using the spice primarily as a coloring agent. Since, paprika can lose color and pungency upon storage, always purchase in small quantities and store it in air tight containers in a cool and dark area.
Non Food Uses
Paprika is often mixed with Henna powder and used as a hair dye to give a reddish tint to hair.