Its color – bright red; its flavor – typically mild and sweet: Paprika. Made from the dried, ground pods of capsicum annum, a sweet red pepper, paprika is often used as a ‘sweeter’ heat to foods, mixed in sauces, on a variety of meat and dusted on the ever-popular potluck dish, deviled eggs.
Paprika is primarily produced in Spain, Central Europe and the United States. Although both Spanish and domestic paprika are mild and sweet in flavor, several important differences exist. Domestic paprika is characteristically fresh, green and vegetable-like, while the Spanish paprika exhibits a more fermented and piquant flavor. Historically, the Central European varieties were more pungent, but they now exhibit sweetness similar to Spanish paprika.
Paprika originated in Southern Mexico, Central America, and the Antilles Islands, where Native Americans used it for healing and seasoning. Christopher Columbus returned from the New World with unknown spices with a never-before-seen present: a paprika plant. At first, the plants were used to decorate baroque gardens of nobility in Europe.
From Turkey via trade routes, paprika came to Hungary through the Balkans. In the second half of the 16th century, Margit Széchy, a noble lady already had a plant in her garden called the Turkish pepper. The name ‘paprika’ came from the 18th century as a diminutive form for the south-Slavic name of pepper (papar). The word ‘paprika’ became universal and international only after its Hungarian usage. Though it is a typical spice in Hungarian cooking, it was first used as a cure for intermittent fever.
As an antibacterial agent and stimulant, paprika can help normalize blood pressure, improve circulation, and increase the production of saliva and stomach acids to aid digestion.
Paprika is unusually high in vitamin C. The peppers used for paprika contain six to nine times as much vitamin C as tomatoes by weight. Pound for pound, it has a higher content of vitamin C than citrus fruit. High heat leaches the vitamins from peppers, thus commercially-dried peppers are not as nutritious as those dried naturally in the sun.
The spice is principally used to season and color rice, stews and soups such as goulash. In many countries paprika is also used in the preparation of sausage—mixed with meats and other spices. Paprika may also be smoked for additional flavor.
Storage and Cooking Tips
Paprika should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, preferably the refrigerator. Rather than paprika in a glass bottle, choose the one in the tin which will protect the contents from damaging light. As with most ground spices, paprika will lose its flavor and potency with age. Use it or replace it within six months for best results.
Be aware when Hungarian paprika is specified in a recipe: find a mild, sweet variety, preferably imported. Spanish paprika generally imparts a much spicier heat to foods. Be sure to check labels to ensure you are getting either the “sweet” or “hot” type that you desire.
However, even labels can be confusing. For example, the Hungarian “rose” or “sweet rose” variety is spicy to the palate, although not as hot as cayenne. Experiment with different types of paprika, you can start with this delicious salmon recipe!
Smoked Paprika Roasted Salmon with Wilted Spinach
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons Thyme Leaves
2 pounds salmon fillets
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon Paprika, Smoked
1 teaspoon Cinnamon, Saigon
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon Sicilian Sea Salt
1 bag (10 ounces) fresh spinach leaves
1. Mix orange juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil and 1 teaspoon of the thyme in small bowl. Place salmon in glass dish. Add marinade; turn to coat. Cover. Refrigerate 30 minutes or longer for extra flavor.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix brown sugar, smoked paprika, cinnamon, orange peel, remaining 1 teaspoon thyme and sea salt in small bowl. Remove salmon from marinade. Place in greased foil-lined baking pan. Discard any remaining marinade.
3. Rub top of salmon evenly with smoked paprika mixture. Roast 10 to 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
4. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add spinach; cook 2 minutes or until wilted. Serve salmon over spinach.