Origins & Information - Paprika

(Today's post is written by Duc Duong)

Lately, I've been on a jerky making kick and most recipes call for liquid smoke to add that smoky flavor. I felt liquid smoke had too flat of a flavor profile. So, I opted for recipes that call for smoked paprika because resulting batches would get not only the smoked flavor but also sweet (with a tad of spicy) flavoring from the paprika.

Just like with saffron, I wanted to understand this ingredient better since I use so much of it in my own beef jerky marinades. Initially, I was only familiar with three types of paprika: the regular kind, the smoked kind and the 2006 film.

Here's what I've learned about paprika the spice!

Paprika is a spice made from air-dried fruits/pods of the chili pepper family of the species Capsicum annuum. It can range from mild to hot, and flavors also vary from country to country but almost all the plants grown produce the sweet variety. The sweet paprika is mostly pericarp (the fleshy part of the fruit) with more than half of the seeds removed. Hot paprika contains some seeds, pod, and stalks. Counter to what I expected, the hotter a paprika happens to be, the less red it will be. By far, the hottest paprikas are brown to yellow in color, and coloration is a great way to distinguish powdered paprika varieties.

Regular or plain paprika
Most of the paprika sold in grocery stores is simply labeled "paprika." Its origins may be Hungarian, Californian, or South American, and it is sometimes mixed with other chilies like cayenne. This paprika tends to be neither sweet nor hot and is a suitable garnish for things like deviled eggs or wherever you want some color.

Spanish paprika (better known as pimentón)
Paprika in Spain goes by "pimentón" and it ranges from sweet to hot:
  • dulce (sweet and mild)
  • agridulce (bittersweet and medium hot)
  • picante (hot)
  • pimentón de La Vera or smoked paprika (deep, woodsy flavor)

(In Spain's La Vera region, farmers harvest and dry the chiles over wood fires, creating pimentón de La Vera. It could only be called "pimentón de La Vera" if it's from this region; otherwise it would be simply be "smoked paprika" which is not as valued as pimentón de La Vera)

The Hungarian varieties are more robust and considered superior. The Spanish varieties are sweeter and milder. Most tables in Hungary are set with salt and hot paprika (not black pepper) shakers. Hungarian agricultural authorities fiercely guard their plants and seeds and twice as much acreage is devoted to peppers as any other crop.

Due to the favorable climate and geographical conditions, Hungarian paprika has a bright red color and a distinctive rich flavor that allowed Hungary to become one of the leading paprika producers in the world.

The eight grades of Hungarian paprika are

  • Special quality (különleges) - the mildest, very sweet with a deep bright red color
  • Delicate (csípősmentes csemege) – color from light to dark red, a mild paprika with a rich flavor
  • Exquisite delicate (csemegepaprika) – similar to delicate but more pungent
  • Rose (rózsa) – pale red in color with strong aroma and mild pungency
  • Pungent exquisite delicate (csípős csemege, pikáns) – an even more pungent version of delicate
  • Noble sweet (Édesnemes) – bright red and slightly pungent (the most commonly exported paprika; usually marketed as Hungarian sweet paprika in the US)
  • Half-sweet (félédes) – a blend of mild and pungent paprikas; medium pungency
  • Strong (erős) – light brown in color, the spiciest paprika

I also looked a little bit into growing and making your own paprika. Turns out it's more time efficient to let the professionals do what they do best. You basically need to start growing your paprika crop a year before you want the powder. Other than the growing time needed, the air-drying and actual yield qualifies more as a fun home project for educational purposes but not something to do regularly.

So there you go! Next time a recipe calls for a specific type of paprika, you'll know the difference! Personally I want to try some genuine pimentón de La Vera in a future jerky marinade. Cheers!

All photographs were sourced from Wikipedia's public media domain.