When you say paprika the first thing that comes to your mind is that iconic tube of Pringles, right? And deviled eggs, because you like the vibrant red color on the white.
But did you know that it can be sweet or hot? What about the smoked and chili ones? How many times did you struggle in choosing one of them, not knowing what are the differences? And what does paprika actually taste like?
If you never knew what makes them different from one another, you are in the right place. Stick with me and let’s find out why all are the same thing, but different at the same time.
I’m in a hurry, what’s paprika’s taste?
Paprika’s taste depends on the species of peppers used. Usually, it is mild and a bit sweet. From my experience, it often has a deep earthy taste.
In hot peppers, the sweet taste is often covered by the ‘burn’ sensation they give. You can also look for mixes of sweet and hot species for a milder palette.
Color also differs depending on which pepper we are talking about. While the mild-sweet paprika has a bright orange-red color, the hot one has a deep red color.
Smoked paprika comes with a red-brown color and is a mix of different pepper species.
The paprika powder has a mild flavor and taste that become strong in the cooking process. A different story is with smoked paprika. Its smoky flavor is strong and a spicy kick to any dish.
What is paprika?
Paprika is made out of dried and ground peppers from Capsicum Annuum peppers. This species includes chili peppers. More often paprika is made from bell peppers.
Depending on the species used, the color can range from orange-red to deep red with some brown tones.
Its texture resembles dust. It feels and acts like fine and dry dust and a simple blow can carry it all over the place. Due to this reason, it is super easy to waste paprika. All you need is a sneeze or a breeze and you have it all over the place.
Most popular types of peppers from which you can make paprika are:
- Sweet bell peppers
- Sweet peppers
- Red peppers
- Bonnet pepper
- Cayenne pepper
And at grocery stores, you can find different types of paprika put into three categories: mild, spicy, and smoked paprika.
- Spicy paprika
- Hungarian sweet paprika or Hungarian paprika
- Smoked Spanish paprika
- California paprika
How is paprika made?
Paprika is first dried and then it is finely grounded. Usually, the peppers are dried in the sun at 90F with humidity levels below 60%. They are evenly cut and then left in the sun for several days.
Today we can use more modern approaches to drying our vegetables. We can now use the electric oven or a dehydrator. They are accessible, easy to use, and get the job done in less than 24 hours.
With the dehydrator you can finish in less than half a day, depending on how powerful it is. You can then use a grinder and you will have a side of fresh paprika ready to use.
A special note about smoked paprika: the drying process is different. Most of the time the peppers are slowly smoked with the help of oak wood. While it’s burning and mocking, smoke infuses the peppers, and the warmed air dries them.
In Spain, the whole peppers (called pimentón) are smoked for eight to twelve days. Smoked peppers are then sent to the fabric for grounding. After, they go on the market.
History of paprika
Peppers used for paprika have origins in the Northern, Central, and North-Central parts of the American Continent. There, they have been cultivated for centuries, especially in today’s Central Mexico. In the 16th century, Spain brought them into Europe. From there, peppers reached Africa and Asia.
Peppers went into Central Europe through the Balkans. In the end, they became a thing there. This explains the Hungarian origin of the word ‘paprika’. Although it came in the 16th century, paprika wasn’t that popular in Hungary until the 19th century.
All peppers grown in Europe, especially in today’s Spain (pimenton) and Hungary (paprika), were hot varieties until 1920. Around that year a Szeged breeder found a plant that produced sweet fruit. He grafted it onto other plants.
How can you use paprika?
Paprika is a versatile spice that can be used in many ways. Due to its strong pigments, you can also use it for coloring. I can’t help myself but put some teaspoons of paprika whenever I make a curry because I like the red it brings. If the paprika is hot, so much better.
For savory dishes, marinades work very well with paprika. A simple marinade with salt, paprika, pepper, and a little vinegar can transform a tasteless piece of food into a savory and juicy meal. You can marinade:
- Meat rubs
- Chicken breasts
- Pork chops
- Different vegetables
Due to osmosis, the sweet and earthy taste infuses the meat and the veggie. Salt changes the liquid properties, making any raw food more suitable for cooking. The final product tends to be more juicy and tender.
Whenever I marinade my meat for grilling I often find it juicier than a bland chicken breast or rib-eye cooked in the same conditions.
In fresh foods like salads and cold soups, paprika is usually used for coloring. While the hot varieties of paprika add that burn sensation to any dish, the mild one has to be cooked. Its fine texture does not change the final feeling of the dish.
But I have to admit that a dressing (Or a bowl of Gazpacho soup) often looks and seems to taste better when it has a vibrant red. After all, we are first eating with our eyes, right?
When it comes to cooked food, you can use paprika either for the color or for the taste. Or both of them. While cooking, the flavor and taste tend to infuse the food.
The spice itself is sweet enough on its own, but in food, it is not that strong. It is not as pungent as spices like pepper, allspice, and cinnamon. It’s rather subtle and with a fine touch for one’s senses.
Because it is versatile it works well in soups and stews, grilled foods, steamed or fried. Some very well-known foods that would not exist without paprika are:
- Goulash (a traditionally Hungarian food)
- Chorizo (Spanish sausages)
- Paprikash (a Hungarian gravy).
Paprika and Chili
Are we talking about the same thing?
I was talking earlier about chili being in the same family as bell peppers. It is often used for hot paprika and hot dishes.
When we talk about chili, we will often find it as a mix of spices, rather than the dried ground pepper alone.
Chili consists most of the time of various spice blends. Dry spices are blended in various ratios. A chili mix is usually a mix of:
- hot peppers
- garlic powder
- onion powder
You can also find chili flakes in little grinders at the grocery store. They usually come with salt.
Chili powder and flakes are most common in Latin America. We have well-known dishes like:
- Chili con carne (Literal translation being ‘chili with meat’)
When I was working in California, I remember how my Latin-American coworkers were spicing their food. Almost every time they were using some kind of hot pepper. The burn sensation was often paired with savory meats and tender vegetables.
There was a time when they mixed pineapple, tomatoes, and red onion with pieces of jalapeno. This was such a good mix of sweet, sour, and spicy at the same time!
Nutritional facts about paprika
- Spicy foods can help your digestion and overall life. It is well known that spicy condiments can help your body digest food better. You have to be sure you won’t pass over your limits.
Spicy foods can create problems for people with some conditions. People sensitive to heat should stick with regular or smoked paprika.
- Paprika has a lot of nutrients. A tablespoon (6.8 gr) has:
- 2 g of fiber
- 19 % of the DV of Vitamin A
- 13% of the DV of Vitamin E
- 9% of the DV of Vitamin B6
- 8% of the DV of Iron
- Paprika, especially the hot varieties, may help reduce inflammation and some autoimmune conditions. This is due to the presence of Capsaicin, the same compound that makes your mouth burn.
- Paprika can help prevent different types of cancer. Several paprika carotenoids (Beta Carotene, Lutein, Zeaxanthin) were found to fight against the oxidation process, lowering the risk of certain cancers. Also, Capsaicin may inhibit cancer cell growth by influencing the expression of several genes.
Did you know?
- Paprika peppers were brought to Europe in the Columbian Exchange. Its other name is the Columbian Interexchange. European countries took native plants and animals from each continent and sent them to the other continent.
- The word derives from the Hungarian word ‘Paprika’. This comes from the Latin word ‘piper’ or modern Greek ‘piperi’ which comes from the Sanskrit word ‘pippali’.
- In some languages, the word ‘paprika’ can refer to the plant and the fruit from which the spice is made. Also, it may be used as the word for the fruit itself (the bell pepper), and not the dried and ground fruit.
Paprika is sweet and has an earthy taste that goes well with a lot of dishes. And because of that, you can use it in any way you want. Salads, soups, grills, or oven food: everything can work with that fine powder and the vibrant red color.
And if you choose the smoked one for grilled food and sauces, you will be surprised by its strong and addictive flavor.
Let us know how you play with it and tag us whenever you post your delicious recipes on the internet.