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Paprika is made from certain very finely ground red pepper pods. The color can vary from light bright orange red to dark deep red. The flavor varies from sweet and mild to pungent and hot. Mild paprika can be found in any well stocked supermarket, while ethnic stores or specialty spice vendors will be necessary for a hotter more robust paprika.

Different varieties of bell peppers have been cultivated in America long before the arwrival of the Europeans, so their native countries cannot be determined. South American origin is, however, established for all species of the genus Capsicum, which emerged probably in the area bordering Southern Brazil and Bolivia. The species started moving to the North by birds dropping seeds. Since paprika plants tolerate nearly every type of climate, the fruits are produced all over the world. But most of what is produced commercially comes from Spain, South America, California, and Hungary. Indeed paprika has long been more of a staple in Hungary than just a spice. In Hungary, they have elevated growing these peppers to an art, they have six classes or types of paprika ranging from delicate to hot.

When someone comes to the store and asks for paprika, we always smile and say, “Great, what kind would you like?” There are currently five different varieties available. Most of us know one or perhaps two different kinds, but at the supermarket it is difficult to find any but the mildest sweet variety. One of the varieties that has become increasingly popular is smoked paprika. Some vendors sell a smoked paprika that has had chemical smoke added to it, but the very best has been smoked in the traditional way of smoking peppers, with the smoke from a fire of burning wood. The most popular type seems to be an oak smoked paprika.

The Hungarian cuisine uses paprika in dishes such as chicken paprikash and goulash. It is used in many spiced meat products like Spanish chorizos. Many Spanish, Portuguese and Turkish recipes use paprika for soups, stews and casseroles. In India it is sometimes used in tandoori chicken to give it the red color. It is often used as a garnish for salads, appetizers and eggs. In Spain paprika is used to flavor shell fish dishes, rice, and to season tomato and green pepper salads.

An important thing to remember when using paprika in sauces is that it has a high sugar content and burns easily. Add it only when liquid ingredients are present and do not cook it over high heat for too long. Surprisingly to some, this is the same variety of pepper that we see stuffed ubiquitously in olives. Yep, this is the same pepper that gives us pimento.

If you are out of Paprika you might try ground red pepper, but just an eighth of the amount, as it is far hotter and not as sweet.


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