If a red-colored packaged or prepared food item in the U.S. is labeled as containing only "natural colors" then chances are that red color comes from paprika. But paprika is far more than just a food coloring. It has a pungent taste when heated that evokes its peppery origins.
The red spice most familiar to Americans as a colorful garnish for deviled eggs and roast ham, paprika is made from ground bonnet pepper, or Capsicum tetragona, a relative of chili peppers and bell peppers and native to South America. As such, when cooked into dishes it can pack quite a pungent punch.
In Hungary, making paprika is a traditional culinary art. Therefore, Hungarian paprika is often among the best. Other regions known for producing awesome paprika are California, Spain, Turkey, Yugoslavia and the Netherlands.
Different Paprika for Different Tastes
Paprika can be mild, sweet or hot. One of the main differences that determine a paprika's spiciness is how much of the mid-rib of the pepper—and the seeds it contains—are removed before grinding. Mild paprika has no mid-rib or seeds; hot paprika may have some included. Hot paprika may also be made from a blend of bonnet pepper and other peppers like Capsicum annuum or sweet pepper, which have a spicier flesh. In Spain, some paprika is made by smoking the peppers dry, infusing a smoky flavor in the resulting spice. In Hungary, paprika is classified into no less than eight different grades.
Most paprika sold in stores is a blend of Capsicum peppers that range in hotness and sweetness.
Americans are mostly accustomed to sprinkling a light dusting of paprika on a dish moments prior to serving for appearance's sake. In other parts of the world, paprika is included earlier in the recipe, with the heating process bringing out its sweet and spicy flavors. As a seasoning, paprika is most commonly used in soups, stews, casseroles and rice dishes. Paprika is also one of the spices mixed in with various chopped meats to make sausages. Paprika can also be a pungently flavorful (or would that be flavorfully pungent?) addition to cheeses. Pasta sauces, gravies, marinades and dressings may also be spiced up with a little paprika.
For the best flavor when adding paprika to a dish, toast it in a warm frying pan for a few seconds or warm it up in a bit of hot oil first.
All Capsicum peppers are high in vitamin C, much of which is retained in the process of making paprika. Paprika is also high in iron and is a concentrated source of beta carotene, which the body then converts into vitamin A. Paprika contains a number of other vitamins and minerals as well. It also has a large amount of dietary fiber and antioxidants, especially as spices go, and even a bit of protein.
So whether you want a dish you're preparing to taste hot or just look like it does, paprika can get the job done right.