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What Is Paprika?
Paprika is a ground spice made from a mixture of dried peppers in the Capsicum anuum family, including hot chili peppers, cayenne peppers, poblano peppers, aleppo peppers, sweet peppers, and others. This vibrant red spice varies in flavor, heat levels, and color depending on the type of peppers used to make the paprika.
Some paprikas are hot and spicy, with predominant notes of fiery hot peppers. Others are sweet, with no heat and a mild flavor. The spice level of paprika is dependent on the flavorful carotenoids contained in the fresh peppers used for the powder, which can be measured by the scoville heat unit scale.
Originally cultivated in Central Mexico, paprika was brought to Spain in the sixteenth century before moving around the world to Asia, Africa, and other European nations. Paprika features prominently in Hungarian cuisine, where the bright red spice is used as ubiquitously as salt or pepper.
3 Varieties of Paprika
Among the different varieties of paprika, the spice is often divided into three categories—hot paprika, sweet paprika, and smoked paprika—which often vary based on where they're produced. Here's a deep dive into the three common varieties of paprika:
- Regular Paprika (aka basic paprika): This generic form of paprika, which is the one most commonly found in the spice aisles of average grocery stores, can consist of peppers from California, Hungary, South America, and more. This variety is very mild in flavor, without strong notes of heat or sweetness, making it the ideal garnish for dishes like deviled eggs, hummus, and potato salad.
- Hungarian Paprika: Paprika is the national spice of Hungary, and is used in many of the country’s most common dishes. There are eight types of Hungarian paprika with varying degrees of heat and flavor. The most commonly used and exported variety is Noble Sweet (Edesnemes), a bright red, slightly pungent spice. Other types of Hungarian paprika include delicate, rose, semi-sweet, strong, and special quality.
- Spanish Paprika (aka pimenton): Available in three different varieties—mild, mildly spicy, and spicy—this paprika typically consists of chili peppers that have been dried over oak fires (pimenton de la vera), infusing the spice with a smoky flavor. However, some types of Spanish paprika are sun dried or dried in kilns and therefore don’t have a smoky taste.
How to Substitute Paprika
Choosing a substitute for paprika will depend on the type of paprika originally called for in the recipe. To recreate the spice of hot paprika, the best paprika substitute is another dried chili, like ground cayenne, aleppo pepper powder, crushed red pepper flakes, red chili powder, or even a dash of hot sauce. If a recipe calls for the smokiness of Spanish paprika, use crushed ancho powder or chipotle powder.
What Are the Health Benefits of Paprika Spice?
This bold red spice has plenty of health benefits, thanks to the valuable nutrients and natural compounds contained in the peppers used to make the spice. Paprika is particularly rich in vitamin A, vitamin B6, and beta-carotene, which can help maintain healthy skin. Paprika also has high levels of potassium, which can help to increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure. Also rich in copper, iron, and vitamin E, paprika can help to increase new red blood cell formation.
12 Paprika Recipes
- Hungarian Goulash: A traditional Hungarian stew made with beef, sweet red pepper, Hungarian paprika, minced garlic, olive oil, yellow onions, beef broth, and tomato paste.
- Chicken Paprikash: A Hungarian stew consisting of chicken, Hungarian paprika, chicken broth, sour cream, bell pepper, diced tomatoes, garlic, and yellow onions.
- Pulled Pork with Smoked Paprika: Pork shoulder braised slowly in a mixture of water, vinegar, smoked paprika, and seasonings. Shredded and served on buns.
- Jambalaya: A classic Creole shrimp and sausage dish made with rice, chicken stock, green onions, diced tomatoes, green bell pepper, paprika, and additional seasonings.
- Carne Asada Tacos: Flank steak marinated in olive oil, lime juice, garlic, chili powder, pepper, cumin, and paprika. Grilled, sliced, and served with fresh tortillas and taco fixings.
- Spicy Cajun Chicken Breast: Chicken breast rubbed with a dry rub mixture of hot paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, and dried herbs. Baked in the oven.
- Deviled Eggs: A classic appetizer made with hard boiled eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, and vinegar. Topped with a sprinkling of basic paprika.
- Lamb Tagine: Moroccan tagine made with lamb meat, olive oil, turmeric, cumin, sweet paprika, cloves, cardamom, onion, carrot, garlic, chicken broth, and tomato paste, cooked in a traditional tagine pot.
- Chilindron Stew: A rich stew traditional to central Spain made with roasted red peppers, paprika, olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes, stock, and wine.
- Barbecue Rib Sauce: Chef Aaron Franklin's makes his barbecue rib sauce with beef fat, onion, garlic, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, ketchup, paprika, mustard powder, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.
- Fried Chicken: Chef Thomas Keller uses paprika, cayenne pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder to season the flour for his fried chicken.
- Seafood Gazpacho: Wolfgang Puck makes a white wine clam stalk seasoned with sweet paprika and cayenne powder for his seafood gazpacho.
How to Make Paprika Oil at Home
To make a flavorful paprika-infused oil at home, combine a high-quality extra virgin olive oil and smoked paprika. Begin by heating ½ cup olive oil in a saucepan for a few minutes on low until the oil is warm but not bubbling. Remove the oil from heat and stir in 3 teaspoons paprika. Let the mixture infuse for 1 hour before straining the oil through a cheesecloth or coffee filter. Store the oil in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and use within one week.
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