Paprika, or ‘red pepper’ is a powdered spice, obtained from the fruit of the sweet pepper that is ripened, dried and ground. In fact this vegetable is a close relative of the red sweet pepper that we know so well, but it is a bit smaller, less fleshy and tastier.
Sweet peppers and chili peppers originated in South and Central America. When Spanish and Portuguese conquerors started settling down and cultivating land in these regions, they discovered sweet peppers and chili peppers in an incredible variety of shapes and sizes; since they were so easy to crossbreed, it became possible to create new shapes and a whole range of flavours varying in spiciness.
The mildest varieties of sweet peppers were grown in abundance in Southern Europe, where they could be used all year round, fresh, dry or as a powder instead of pepper, which was much more expensive. The climatic conditions in Hungary – slightly rainy springs, dry and hot summers – are ideal. Therefore it is the Hungarians who are specialists in both the mild and spicy types of paprika.
The flavour and quality may vary depending on whether the entire plant or only a part of it is used, the best paprika being acquired from only the pods. When seeds are added, the taste becomes spicier and slightly bitter. The word paprika, borrowed from Hungarian, derives from the Serbo-Croat ‘paprena’, which denotes ‘that which is pungent’.
As is the case with all spices, its aroma fades with time. So it is advisable to buy it in small quantities and to keep it fresh in an airtight opaque container, far away from sunlight.
Try one of recipes that features paprika:
Originally published in the Journal de Montréal on October 2, 2010.