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Where does Paprika come from
Paprika is a spice that doesn't get the recognition it deserves. We hope to enlighten the reader on Paprika - how it is made, used, etc.

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Alas, poor paprika has been vastly underrated by most Americans. Most keep it on hand primarily to use as a garnishing sprinkle of color to breathe life into deviled eggs. European cooks realized the vibrance of this spice long ago, and it is finally gaining respect in the United States. Paprika in large amounts lends not only color, but fabulous flavor to many different foods including meats, vegetables, and sauces. Before we get to the recipes, let's take a look at...

A little history
Paprika comes from dried and ground chile peppers, capsicum annuum, which originated in southern Mexico. Capsicum is a member of the nightshade family which also includes potatoes and tomatoes. Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing the chile to Europe. Aristocrats originally cultivated capsicum as ornamental plants until eventually their culinary value was recognized. By the 1560's, these peppers had reached the Balkans where they were called peperke or paparka. The peppers soon migrated to Hungary, now renowned for its paprika. The Szeged and Kalocsa regions of Hungary are the most well-known producers of sweet paprika. The Paprika Museum makes its home in Kalocsa, and the city celebrates its famous spice with the Paprika Festival each year in October.

It wasn't until the mid-1900s that paprika stepped into the limelight of Western kitchens. Spain, South America, Mediterranean regions, India, and California join Hungary as major producers of paprika. Paprika is used as a coloring agent in foods and cosmetics. Its inclusion in foods fed to zoo flamingos help them keep their pink plumage bright and beautiful.

Sweet or hot?
In the United States, paprika is defined as a sweet, dried, red powder, which can be made from any type of Capsicum annuum that is non-pungent and has brilliant red color. However, in Hungary, paprika may very well be quite pungent.

Sweet Hungarian paprika is considered the best, but others are marketed with varying degrees of heat and color. It's the climate and soil that makes the Hungarian variety of capsicum (also referred to as pimiento) mild and sweet, resulting in the most desirable paprika. The quality of ground paprika also depends on whether or not the seeds and stems are ground in with the dried peppers.

Different varieties of capsicum chile pepper will produce from sweet to mild to spicy hot flavor. The peppers can be round, long or square, and green, yellow, orange, and bright red in color. The Hungarian fruits for paprika are long and thin, as opposed to the smaller, more round ones used to make Spanish paprika. Once harvested, the fruit is completely dried and then ground into the rich, red paprika powder. Paprika should be evenly and finely ground, with a shiny uniform color. The redder the color, the milder the paprika. Conversely, the more yellow the color, the stronger the flavor.

Health Watch
Paprika is unusually high in vitamin C, discovered by Hungary's Nobel prize-winning Professor Szent Gyorgyi who first discovered the vitamin in paprika chile peppers. The capsicum peppers used for paprika contain six to nine times as much vitamin C as tomatoes by weight. High heat leaches the vitamins from peppers, thus commercially-dried peppers are not as nutritious as those dried naturally in the sun. As an antibacterial agent and stimulant, paprika can help normalize blood pressure, improve circulation, and increase the production of saliva and stomach acids to aid digestion.

Paprika should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, preferably the refrigerator. Rather than paprika in a glass bottle, choose the one in the tin which will protect the contents from damaging light. As with most ground spices, paprika will lose its flavor and potency with age. Use it or replace it within six months for best results.

In the Kitchen
The rich coloring of paprika not only enhances the visual appeal of foods, but it can also be used as a major flavoring as in goulash or chicken paprikash. Know that when Hungarian paprika is specified in a recipe, you'll need to find a mild, sweet variety, preferably imported. Spanish paprika generally imparts a much spicier heat to foods. Be sure to check labels to ensure you are getting either the "sweet" (mild) or "hot" type that you desire. However, even labels can be confusing. For example, the Hungarian "rose" or "sweet rose" variety is decidely spicy to the palate, although not as hot as cayenne.

Paprika goes well with just about any savory food, including eggs, meat, poultry, stew, wild game, fish, shellfish, soup, boiled and steamed vegetables, rice, and creamy sauces. For most recipes, the paprika is added near the end of the cooking process, since heat diminishes both the color and flavor.

My recipe collection includes primarily recipes which use at least one teaspoon of paprika and usually much more. If you are timid about starting off with such large amounts, try a little less to begin with. Choose sweet or hot to suit your tastes or combine the two. My bet is you will soon be going through a tin of paprika a month.

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