Paprika is an absolute staple in Spanish kitchens but where does it come from? And how do you use it? Read on for the 101 on paprika.
1. Paprika is made from various types of dried peppers
Paprika is made from the dried red fruits of various species of Capsicum annuum plants. The most common variety used for making paprika is the tomato pepper, sometimes with the addition of chilli pepper or cayenne pepper.
There are three main types available in Spain:
- Pimentón Dulce or Sweet Paprika is made from round, red peppers.
- Pimentón Agridulce or Medium Hot Paprika is made from long dark red peppers.
- Pimentón Picante or Hot Paprika is made from several different types of long red peppers.
2. Paprika originated in Central Mexico
Capsicum Annuum species are indigenous to Central Mexico and have been in cultivation for centuries.
Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ paprika in 1493 and brought a ship laden with spices from the Americas back to Europe.
Paprika arrived in Spain in the 16th century, and the Jeronimos monks at the Yuste Monastery in southwestern Spain started producing it for local consumption.
The trade in paprika expanded from the Iberian Peninsula to Africa and Asia, and ultimately reached Central Europe through the Balkans, then under Ottoman rule, which explains the Hungarian origin of the English word ‘paprika’. In Spanish, paprika is known as pimentón.
3. Spanish paprika (pimentón) is available in three ‘heats’
The most common Spanish paprika, Pimentón de la Vera, is made from peppers that are smoked and dried over oak fires. This process gives the red powder a rich, smoky flavour. You can find this variety, as well as all the others in mild, medium-hot, and hot varieties.
4. Paprika is good for you
5. The term ‘paprika’ is protected by European Law
True Spanish pimentón is produced using traditional techniques and comes from specific areas in Spain, as per the Denominations of Origin (D.O.) European Union laws.
One of the D.O. is located in Murcia, a province on the Southeastern coast of Spain, between Almeria and Alicante.
The other and more famous is La Vera, located in Cáceres, Extremadura, southwest of Madrid.
Both of these areas are warm and dry in the summer, which makes them perfect for growing peppers.