This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy.
Ever heard about a spice that has festivals around its harvesting? Yep, that’s right. And that spice is none other than your everyday kitchen ingredient — paprika.
This ruby-colored spice has a special place in the Hungarian villages where it grows. At harvest time, people gather to dance and eat dishes starring paprika as the main ingredient, such as goulash and chicken paprika.
That’s about Hungary, but this mildly flavored spice has its unique place in almost all European cuisine. In fact, if your kitchen has just one spice bottle, it’s a safe bet it’s paprika. Need to add a little kick to your meals? Use just a pinch. Want to make something fiery? Use way more.
So what does paprika taste like, what is it, where does it comes from and how you can use this versatile ingredient in your meals - let's find out.
What is paprika?
Paprika is a form of ground spice widely used in European cuisine. Basically, the spice is a form of powdered chili but lacks the hot flavor of red chili or Cayenne pepper powder.
The reason for its mild flavor is the type of sweet pepper used to make the powder. Paprika is the ground form of dried, ripened fruit of capsicum annum. In its fruit form, Capsicum doesn't offer the spice level of red chili peppers or cayenne pepper. That's why Domestic US-grown Paprika doesn't have the spicy kick to it.
There are three main types of paprika:
- Sweet paprika - Mild and sweet in flavor. Typically made from red bell peppers and has a vibrant red color.
- Hot paprika - Spicy, strong flavor and are made from chili peppers.
- Smoked paprika - This has a smoky flavor and can range from mild to hot.
What does paprika taste like?
Paprika has a distinct, unique flavor profile that you will not find in any other type of chili powder. The Hungarian spice has eight heat levels, from sweet to spicy, depending on the pepper used to make the spice. All these eight types of spicy paprika have different colors and pungency levels.
The most pungent of the Hungarian Paprika is called eros. The domestic Paprika you see in the US is usually mild in flavor than the Hungarian Paprika.
The reason for having sweet paprika flavor in the US lies in the grinding process. The domestic red peppers only use pericarp (no seeds). On the other hand, the hot Hungarian varieties also have seeds, imparting a spicy flavor.
Another different type of Paprika comes from the Spanish region. We all know it by the name of 'Smoked Paprika.' While many of us may mistake it for regular Paprika, it has a different flavor.
Smoked Paprika undergoes a long process of harvesting and grinding — Farmers hand-pick thin peppers in the Spanish region of La Vera.
These peppers are then dried in rooms with simmering oakwood beneath them. The peppers never come in direct contact with the oak fire. They stay in the rooms for drying for more than ten days and then ground to the bright red powder.
Smoked Paprika has a smoked flavor that other types of Paprika don't have.
Where does paprika come from?
Paprika has a long history. The spice has traveled quite a lot. Nevertheless, the origin of Paprika is North America, where the spice took up acres of land in the Mexican region about 2000 years ago.
The spice then traveled to Spain as a result of the Columbian voyage. In Spain, spice production took its own turns. The Spanish monks came up with the idea of smoking the spice to enhance the flavor profile.
The smoky flavor of Paprika we now know comes specifically from the Spanish Paprika called Pimenton. This type of Paprika has a unique bright red color that you may not find in other Paprika varieties.
From Spain, the spice traveled to Hungary, and now it's an essential part of Hungarian cuisine. Hungarian Paprika is the most versatile, with many varieties that are typically spicier than the other regional paprika varieties.
Between the three centuries of its production in Mexico, Hungary and Spain, the spice also traveled to the land of spices — India.
No matter how much the spice has traveled, it has made its place in all the regions. Every region uses different bell pepper varieties to yield Paprika and has numerous grinding ways too.
Currently, India is the largest paprika producer, with 1.7 million metric tons of paprika production in 2020.
Although Hungarian cuisine has the most versatile usage pattern of spice, it is not the largest producer of Paprika.
How to use paprika
Although usually not as spicy as red chili powder, Paprika has a lot to do in the culinary world, you probably even have some in your spice cabinet.
From Spain to India, people savor Paprika in many ways. The key element is not to heat the spice too much, or else it will lose its color and flavor.
That's why most cuisine featuring Paprika either uses it as a garnish or adds it to the dish at the end of the cooking process.
Here are some of the most famous dishes that use Paprika:
Even though they do not have a devilish appearance or a satanic red color, they are called deviled eggs.
The reason for the dish having this name is the use of spice in its preparation.
It is more of a colloquial form of naming a dish. Since spice has always been associated with dark themes, deviled eggs got their name from their spice level.
These eggs are a modern attempt at creatively serving boiled eggs. Boiled eggs are devoid of their yolks which then sacrifice their original flavor to condiments like yellow mustard, mayo, and Paprika to get stuffed back into the empty, cooked whites.
Paprika works as the beautiful red garnish over these stuffed eggs.
The meaty, liquidy Goulash has Hungarian origin. In fact, it is one of the national dishes of Hungary.
The stew is laden with spices, among which the most prominent is Paprika. The dish uses ground meat cooked in tomato paste and stock and sometimes served over egg noodles.
The name of the dish comes from its popularity among Hungarian shepherds. Goulash's literal meaning in the Hungarian language is 'cowboy' or 'herdsman.'
The shepherds packed dried meat into sacs made out of sheep's stomachs and would add only water to eat it along their long journeys.
Now, the dish doesn't include any such storage and has the primary spice 'paprika' that the shepherds didn't use back then.
Chicken Paprikash is another Hungarian delicacy that uses Paprika as its main flavoring agent.
The dish is a thick curry that uses sour cream and flour to get a rich flavor profile. The primary spice of this dish is Paprika. At the same time, some people use other forms of peppers, such as black pepper, in their preparation.
The chicken is boiled in water first. Then the thickening mixture of sour cream and flour goes into it and the spices such as hot Hungarian Paprika.
While there are many variants of the rich potato salad, the ones that use Paprika are incredible.
For a paprika-flavored potato salad, you need to boil and cube a few potatoes and add other vegetables of your choice, such as onions and celery. Make a mixture of mayo, Paprika and other seasoning and coat the potatoes.
The mild and earthy flavor of paprika adds a punch to this quickly prepared side and makes it an instant crowd-pleaser.
Nutritional value of paprika
Paprika has a diversified nutritional profile. However, one of its most prominent nutritional indicators is vitamin C.
One hundred grams of Paprika can supply 22% of a healthy individual's daily vitamin C requirement.
Another micronutrient that Paprika holds in ample amounts is potassium. One hundred grams of Paprika can meet 65% of your daily potassium requirement.
Other prominent components of Paprika are fat, sugars and fiber. Since the bell pepper fruit is usually harvested in ripened form, the sugar content of Paprika is high. Still, it doesn't tick off the spice from the healthy foods list because, after all, nobody will use 100 grams of spice in a single day.
Fun paprika facts
- Paprika is too possessive about the land where it grows. It doesn't grow well for three years in the soil where another nightshade family plant grows.
- The spice has a temper. It will get angry and bitter if you supply too much heat.
- You can find Paprika hanging out (Yeah! They are literally hanging outside the houses) in the Hungarian villages from September to October.
- No matter how much you want to substitute Paprika with red chili pepper, you can't replace it correctly.
Paprika may not be the over empowering addition to your dishes like garlic or nutmeg. However, these dried, ground capsicum annum fruits have a flavor profile that only proper use can enhance.
Hungary, Spain, and India have correctly found their way of using this mild to hot spice in their cuisine. In comparison, the rest of the world is still struggling to understand the proper use.
To get on the Paprika bandwagon, add it to your salads and soups or garnish your deviled eggs with it. Keep in mind that the spice has a temper. If you overcook it, it will get angry and bitter, so go easy while using Paprika.