Like all capsicums, the paprika varieties are native to South America. Originally a tropical plant, it can now grow in cooler climates. In Europe Hungary and Spain are the two main centres for growing paprika peppers, though these varieties have evolved into much milder forms than their tropical ancestors.
Paprika is a fine powder ground from certain varieties of Capsicum annuum which vary in size and shape. They may be small and round (Spain and Morocco) or pointed and cone shaped (Hungary and California). They are larger and milder than chilli peppers. Paprika is produces from peppers ripened to redness, sometimes called ‘pimento’, the same as used to stuff olives. The powder can vary in colour from bright red to rusty brown.
Fresh red peppers have more than seven times as much vitamin C as oranges, but the very high heat of modern drying destroys much of the vitamin C in paprika. It is however, an excellent source of betacarotene, that the body converts to vitamin A.
To maintain the stronger taste that consumers expect, some spice companies add cayenne to heat up Hungarian paprika.
The Spanish grades of pimentón are dolce (sweet), agridulce (semi sweet) and picante (hot). It is also graded for quality, depending on the proportion of flesh to seeds and pith.
In Hungary there as six classes ranging from Kulonleges (exquisite delicate) to Eros (hot and pungent).
Paprika deteriorates quickly, so it should be purchased in small quantities and kept in airtight containers away from sunlight.
Commercial food manufacturers use paprika in cheeses, processed meats, tomato sauces, chili powders and soups. Its main purpose is to add colour.
Paprika is intimately associated with Hungarian cuisine especially paprikash and goulash. Many spiced sausages incorporate it, including the Spanish chorizos. Paprika is often used as a garnish, spinkled on eggs, hors d’ouvres and salads for colour. It spices and colours cheeses and cheese spreads, and is used in marinades and smoked foods. It can be incorporated in the flour dusting for chicken and other meats. Many Spanish, Portuguese, Austrian, Slovenian and Turkish recipes use paprika for soups, stews, casseroles and vegetables. In India paprika is sometimes used in tandoori chicken, to give the characteristic red colour. Paprika is an emulsifier, temporarily bonding with oil and vinegar to make a smooth mixture for a salad dressing.
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