On a recent trip to Cadiz, I found myself in its central market surrounded by an astounding amount of produce. I wanted to buy some paprika in a cute tin in one store, but I didn’t know which one I should buy, nor was I sure what I was buying. The more I thought about it, the more I realised how little I knew about the types of paprika we have on offer. Here, in the UK, supermarkets offer a wide variety of two kinds of paprika, a smoked and an unsmoked version.
What is Paprika?
Paprika is the dried and ground flesh of different peppers. Producers can oven-dry, sun-dry, or dry peppers over an oak fire to produce a smoky-flavoured paprika. The peppers used to make paprika most commonly derive from a species called “Capsicum annuum,” which includes bell peppers and some chilli peppers, such as Jalapenos and Cayenne chillies. Paprika has become one of the most popular spices available worldwide.
Despite its long association with European cuisines from Spain to Hungary, Paprika originated in the so-called New World, which is believed to have begun life in Mexico. When the Spanish discovered the chilli pepper, they began drying their own, resulting in what is now known as pimentón.
With all these different types of paprika, it should be given that they vary in taste, profile, and heat levels. Some are hot and fiery, while some are sweet with a milder heat-free flavour. The spiciness in paprika comes from naturally occurring carotenoids, which can be measured using the Scoville heat scale. The carotenoids also give plants and paprika their vibrant red colour, depending on their saturation. In making paprika, its heat and colour properties depend on the peppers used to make the spice and the saturation of these carotenoids in the fresh peppers.
The Types of Paprika
We usually divide the spice into 3 different types of paprika. These are sweet, hot, and smoked. Their flavour profile is based on their preparation and the type of peppers used. However, they also have different properties depending on where they are produced.
Or, as I call it, “supermarket paprika.” It’s paprika but in its generic form, uniform to taste the same and a shadow of its various other versions. It’s the version of paprika you can usually find in spice aisles up and down the country. To make it, assorted peppers from around the globe create a mild spice without intense sweetness. It’s best used for colour and garnishing dishes. However, I also use it when a recipe requires paprika but doesn’t call for any strong flavourings, relying on a mild, earthy base.
Paprika was brought to Hungary via Turkey and was given the moniker “Turkish pepper.” The spice is now considered the Hungarian national spice and accounts for the flavour of their cuisine. The modern paprikas we use today were developed in Hungary and spread throughout the Western world. However, there are 8 types of Hungarian paprika, which vary according to their properties.
The most common Hungarian paprikas include the sweet variety known as “Edesnemes.” If a recipe calls for sweet or Hungarian paprika, it probably calls for this type. It’s bright red in colour and can have quite a pungent taste. Other types of paprika from Hungary range from delicate to strong and vary in heat and flavour. The spiciest of these paprikas is known as “Erős”. In contrast, the mildest, delicate flavoured paprika is known as “Különleges” or special paprika.
As there are many types of paprika in the world of Hungarian paprika, this article could run into a few more thousand words. It could also warrant an entire article to itself. It’s always worth trying to source the right paprika for a Hungarian recipe if you want to taste an authentic version of the meal.
Spanish paprika is known as pimentón and comes in three different varieties. Dulce means sweet, Picante means spicy, and agridulce is medium-heat paprika. Paprika is strongly associated with Spanish cuisine, and it would be unthinkable to imagine Spanish chorizo without the spice.
The most famed producer of Spanish paprikas is the Extremadura region, in a county called LA Vera. In La Vera, peppers are planted in March and harvested in September, ready to be dried in drying houses. Paprika from this region of Spain has a distinctly smoky flavour as it uses smoke to dry the peppers. This process takes around 2 weeks and uses the traditional method of oak wood to produce smoke to dry the peppers, resulting in the famous pimentón de la vera.
Like Hungarian Paprika, several different types of paprika are available to the Spanish cook. Spanish pimentón, too, could rightly warrant its own article covering its extensive methods. Still, it may be beyond the scope of this article.
Where to Use All These Types of Paprika?
This is nowhere near an exhaustive list, but it provides an overview of places paprika can be used.
- Hungarian Goulash – This classic beef stew is made with Hungarian paprika, red peppers, and tomatoes.
- Paprikash – another Hungarian classic traditionally made from chicken, Hungarian paprika, sour cream, peppers, and tomatoes.
- Jambalaya – A classic spicy rice dish that uses prawns and sausage cooked with spices, Cajun sofrito of celery, green peppers, and onions.
- Spanish Paella – Made with special paella rice, prawns, chicken, sausage, or rabbit, it is seasoned with saffron and paprika.
- Cajun BBQ Chicken – Paprika forms the base of a Cajun spice mix that can be rubbed onto chicken and other meats and tossed onto the barbecue.
- Patatas Bravas – A fried potato Spanish dish topped with a spicy tomato sauce made from hot smoked paprika. Paprika is also a constituent part of most Spanish tapas recipes.
- Garnish – A sprinkle of paprika is used to garnish a wide range of dishes, from the classic prawn cocktail to hummus and deviled eggs.