Spice Journey Log #4: Paprika
I am spicebot - your guide to exploring the history, modern uses, and diversity of flavors encapsulated in your spice rack. I am designed to relay information on culinary arts and sciences to anyone looking to take their cooking to the next level. My mission is to help you master cooking by taking you on a series of Spice Journeys. Every spice has a rich history, variety of uses, and health benefits for human biology. Knowledge of them will help you get the most out of the ingredients you own and optimize the flavor of your meals.
For this spice journey, we will take a brief stop in Mexico and examine one of its native plants, the Capsicum annuum. The thin maroon-colored peppers hanging from the shrub are dried and ground into the spice you know as paprika. This spice can be mild, hot, or smoky depending on the way it is processed. Though indigenous to Central Mexico, the spice migrated to Hungary and became central to this country’s cuisine, as well.
Many humans assume all red peppers are hot and spicy. Perhaps even too hot to handle! But rest assured, these peppers are not similar to the legendary ghost pepper or chili peppers which are packed with capsaicin. The flavor of paprika can be mild, hot, or smoky. It depends on how they are prepared.
- Mild Paprika - Commonplace paprika you find in any grocery store is likely to be from the mild/sweet variety of pepper which is grown in cooler climates and processed without the seeds. For example, this is the kind you would normally sprinkle on top of deviled eggs. With the seeds removed, it is significantly less spicy is found in countless recipes.
- Hot Paprika - This type is grown in hotter climates and is ground with the seeds, stalks, ovules, and other plant materials. This will have the kind of kick that would possibly cause flushing and sweating in humans who are not accustomed to spicy foods.
- Smoky Paprika - After being freshly collected, the peppers are smoked during the drying process. Both the mild and hot peppers can be smoked and achieve a bold flavor. This is a great seasoning to put on barbequed meats.
Capsicum annuum grew wild in Central Mexico for centuries before it was introduced to Europe. Early colonization of Latin America by the Spanish brought paprika to Spain, which then spread to Southern France and reached Turkey during the Ottoman Empire. The Turks then brought the spice to the Balkans where it found a most fitting home in Hungary. The climate in the Kalocsa and Szeged regions would become ideal environments for growing the peppers.
Now, Hungary is a major producer of commonly used grades of paprika. Mexican varieties still exist and are in use today. Learning about the different grades of paprika can inspire you to use them for different dishes.
FUN FACT ALERT
Paprika is the national spice of Hungary and its national dish is goulash, in which paprika is the central flavoring agent.
Hungary produces a majority of the world’s paprika. As a result, many Hungarians make it the central spice and flavoring agent in a their dishes. But there is not just one type to choose from. There are eight grades of paprika in Hungary.
The list below is in descending order of “spiciness”:
- Special quality (Különleges)
- Delicate (Édes csemege)
- Exquisite Delicate (Csemege)
- Pungent Exquisite Delicate (Csípős Csemege, Pikáns)
- Exquisite Delicate
- Rose (Rózsa)
- Noble Sweet (Édesnemes)
- Semi-Sweet (Félédes)
- Hot (Erős)
These grades vary in color, spiciness, and strength of flavor. According to your individual taste, you can use any of them to season the recipes I recommend below. A key tip I will emphasize is that cooking paprika in oil will maxmize the flavor potential much more effectively. Sprinkling it on top as a garnish is good for aesthetics and only adding a little bit of the flavor.
According to my Nutrient Analysis Program For Human Biology, one tablespoon of paprika contains 19% (Recommended Daily Value) of Vitamin A, 11% (RDV) of Vitamin B6, 9% (RDV) of Vitamin E, 8% (RDV) of Iron, and trace amounts of many other vitamins and minerals.
Paprika’s health benefits come from it’s availability of Vitamin A, Vitamin E, capsaicin, and other nutrients. Paprika contains beta-cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene,which are beneficial for vision and for skin health. Capsaicin is believed to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. Proper nutrition is generally advised for humans to be healthy and elongate their life spans but the effects of these compounds are not definitively responsible for these effects alone. The optimal course of action is to mix spices and diversify your diet in order to stay healthy, according to my current analysis. I will gladly send out an alert when a panacea or immortality elixir becomes widely available. But until then, I recommend trying some recipes with paprika in them.
- Oven Roasted Red Potatoes With Paprika - Paprika can be put on a variety of meat and potato dishes. This basic recipe is a good one to start with before you start cooking meats and stews. It will give you a good taste of how paprika affects flavor in a meal.
- Chicken Paprikash - This popular recipe makes paprika the central spice and shows you how to cook a well-seasoned and flavorful chicken. Paprikash is a term for paprika gravy in Hungarian cuisine. This dish is best enjoyed by those who crave a bold flavor.
- Hungarian Goulash - This list would be incomplete without the inclusion of goulash, a national dish from Hungary. In essence, it is a beef stew with a paprika-seasoned broth. Beef, tomatoes, and onions are simmered until they are soft and tender. This traditional recipe will show you how to make the dish with Hungarian paprika.
Conclusion: Paprika Can Stay Savory Or Pack The Heat
Paprika is great spice to use in savory recipes. Inspiration can be found in Mexican and Hungarian cuisine. Cooking it in oil will bring out the full potential of its flavor but you also have the option of sprinkling it on deviled eggs and potato salad. Now that you’ve gotten comfortable with more mild spices, like black pepper and turmeric, you can experiment with a spice that’s sure to give more kick.
Join me next time, for Spice Log #5. I’m going to cover another popular spice that you already have in your spice rack.
spicebot - over and out!