The paprika most of us are familiar with is made from sweet red bell peppers that have been dried and then ground into a powder. The red bell peppers used tend to be the sweeter more mild members of the capsicum annuum pepper family. Some of the hotter paprika spices can range from red bells to the milder of the chili peppers. Although members of the capsicum annuum family, red bell peppers have a recessive capsaicin gene that keeps them on the mild side rather than developing the hot spicy flavor that other red peppers have, such as the chili pepper.
Sweet red bell peppers are actually green bell peppers that have fully ripened and turned red. Green bell peppers are picked before they have the opportunity to fully ripen. If green bell peppers are left on the vine long enough, the chlorophyll in the peppers begins to break down, the peppers lose their green color and turn to shades of yellow, orange and red, depending on how long they are allowed to ripen. During the longer ripening process, the sugar content in the peppers increases and the peppers develop a sweeter more mild taste.
In addition to the mild sweet paprika we sprinkle on our devilled eggs for added color, there are many types of paprika ranging in color, flavor and degree of hotness. Colors range from orangey red to dark red to light brown. Flavors range from sweet and mild to hot and spicy, even smoky, depending on the type of pepper used.
Although not as hot as cayenne or chili pepper, if heated rather than just sprinkled over food, paprika can offer a very distinctive flavor to your cooking. Many cooks find paprika a welcome addition to their soups, stews, sauces, chili, goulash and other dishes. Paprika also works nicely when preparing seasonings and rubs for meat, fish and poultry when either baking or cooking on the grill. Because paprika has a high sugar content from the peppers used, it tends to burn rather quickly unless added along with a liquid such as oil. Cooking over a fairly low heat is recommended.
Paprika is believed to have originated in the West Indies and South America and was introduced to Hungarian cuisine around the seventeenth century. Hungary is famous for its quality of paprika produced and also its specialty dishes such as Hungarian Goulash and Chicken Paprikash. According to budapest-tourist-guide.com/hungarian-paprika, there are eight different brands of paprika typically found in most Hungarian shops, ranging from “Special Quality Különleges” – bright red and the mildest, to “Hot Eros”- light brown-orange and the hottest, with a graduated range of pungencies in between. The different types of Hungarian paprika are not always available in our local grocery stores but may be found online or in specialty stores that stock imported spices.
Nutritional Benefits of Paprika:
The red bell peppers used for making paprika are very high in medicinal and nutritional value including vitamin C, beta carotene, folate, lycopene and other antioxidants. Red bell peppers have more medicinal and nutritional value than the green bells do, and the hotter peppers such as the chilis with their high levels of capsaicin are even higher in many of the health benefits.
With all the positives of including paprika and red bell peppers in your diet, be sure to generously sprinkle paprika on your cold foods, in your hot foods, and don’t forget to toss some diced up lusciously sweet red bells into your salad. Enjoy and reap the benefits!