Exploring Paprika: How to Use the "New World" Spice

Updated on March 31, 2018
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

What You Will Find in This Article

  • Introduction (Is It In Your Spice Rack?)
  • History (This Isn't Your Typical "Spice" Story)
  • Explanation of the Varieties (Is All Paprika Hungarian?)
  • Recipes in This Article
    • Paprika chicken with rice
    • Paprika chicken casserole
    • Smokey tomato and lentil soup
    • Carb Diva's goulash soup
    • Pork with paprika, mushrooms, and sour cream
    • Carb Diva's earthy mushroom stew
    • Romesco sauce

Is It In Your Spice Rack?

When you hear the word "paprika" what do you think of? A rich and satisfying bowl of Hungarian goulash? Maybe zesty chicken paprikash? Perhaps paprika is nothing more than that red garnish atop a plate of deviled eggs or the potluck potato salad. Or maybe, you don’t think of (or use) paprika at all.

What a pity.

Paprika is more than just a pretty face, and it’s not a one-dimensional flavor. The taste of it can range from sweet to smoky to earthy and spicy. A member of the pepper family (Capsicum annuum), paprika is dried and ground into a powder from not one, but a wide variety of pepper plants, thus the broad range of flavor profiles.

Paprika . . . has become one of the most consumed spice products in the world because of its importance in spice blends, including rubs, marinades, and seasoned salts.

— The Homestead Garden

This Isn't Your Typical "Spice" Story

Black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, mace—these spices had a long and somewhat tragic history. They grew and were discovered in the Far East, in isolated tropical areas. Exotic, rare, and costly, they were valued more than gold. Battles were waged over them, blood was spilled for them.

And then there is paprika. It originated in the west, not the east. The native peoples of Mexico, Central America, and the Antilles used it for cooking and they recognized its healing properties.

It was Christopher Columbus who “discovered” paprika. How ironic; Columbus was in search of a new route to the Spice Islands of the East; he failed in that endeavor, but made new discoveries that he then transported from West to East—corn, potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco, chocolate, squash, and peppers . . . including paprika.

The 5 Stages of the Paprika Fruit
The 5 Stages of the Paprika Fruit

Columbus misnamed them pimiento, Spanish for the hot spice gleaned from peppercorns. For some time they were used as an ornamental rather than for culinary purposes. In time they were transported from the Iberian Peninsula to Africa and Asia. But how did paprika become “the spice” of Hungary? If you look at a map you will see that Hungary is land-locked, so would not have been a port-of-call for Spanish traders. One might say that paprika entered Hungary through the back door.

As the Roman Empire was slowly imploding, the Ottoman Empire was gaining control of much of southeastern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. The control by the Ottomans also meant control of the trade routes.

They traded amongst other things, decorative plants, like tulips to the Netherlands and no doubt must have picked up a paprika plant or two from royal courts on the continent during trade expeditions. So taken aback by this spice were they, the Ottomans took it wherever they went to season their food; they used it particularly when invading Europe—countries like Bulgaria, Bosnia Croatia, Serbia and most importantly, Hungary.

— Nick Paul,TravelStart.Com, South Africa (7 September 2010)

Is All Paprika Hungarian?

Sweet paprika; Hungarian paprika; smoked, mild, and hot paprika. It's all so confusing. They are not all the same. I'll explain:

“Regular” Paprika

Most of what is sold in grocery stores simply as “paprika” is more decorative than functional. There’s no heat (pepperiness) nor is there any discernable sweetness. Save this one for garnishing. If you want to cook with paprika, keep reading.

Hungarian Paprika

Is this the national spice of Hungary? Perhaps. Just as New Englanders grade their maple syrup by color and intensity of flavor, Hungarian paprikas vary as well. They are not a ‘one-size-fits’all’ sort of spice. There are actually eight grades of Hungarian paprika:

  • különleges (mild and the most vibrant red)
  • csípősmentes csemege (delicate and mild)
  • csemege paprika (similar to the previous but more pungent)
  • csípős csemege (even more pungent)
  • édesnemes (slightly pungent and bright red)
  • félédes (semi-sweet with medium pungency)
  • rózsa (mildly pungent and pale red)
  • erős (hottest and light brown to orange)

Most of what is sold in the U.S. as Hungarian paprika is the édesnemes variety.

Spanish smoked paprika, or pimentón

All other paprikas are slowly dried in the sun. However, Spanish paprika is dried over a fire, imparting it with rich smoky flavor and a deeper mahogany color. Right now this is my absolute favorite type of paprika. My daughter is a vegetarian and won't eat bacon, so smoked paprika gives us that smoky-sweet flavor without sacrificing a pig.

And that brings me to why we're really here (and why, I assume you are reading). Bring on the recipes.

Recipes in This Article

  • Paprika chicken with rice
  • Paprika chicken casserole
  • Smokey tomato and lentil soup
  • Carb Diva's goulash soup
  • Pork with paprika, mushrooms, and sour cream
  • Carb Diva's earthy mushroom stew
  • Romesco sauce

Paprika Chicken with Rice

This recipe is almost ridiculous. How can something so simple be so tasty? Less is more. Quality over quantity. Occam's Razor.

With just diced chicken breast, salt, pepper, lemon juice and (the magic ingredient) paprika, FamilyFoodOnTheTable produces a wonderful main dish for your family. Couscous, white or brown rice, or zucchini "noodles" would be a great accompaniment. Fresh veggies or a side salad and you have a healthy meal in less than half an hour.

I found the blog FeedingAndy through Pinterest, and glad that I did. Peggy creates wonderful dishes using ingredients I find quite often in my own rotation (seafood, chicken, soups, and pasta). Her paprika-chicken casserole is full of flavor, egg noodles (yum!) and a silky sauce redolent with paprika.

Smoky Tomato and Lentil Soup

Nick, the creator of this satisfying, smoky lentil soup, introduces himself as "frugal food enthusiast and curator of FrugalFeeding, a food blog about eating good, well-sourced food as economically as possible. Cheap isn’t a word we use here.

Nick lives in Bristol, England and so the measurements in his recipe are given in grams. I present the recipe below with notations so show cups and ounces for my American friends.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 50g (about 2 ounces) pancetta, diced(optional)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, mashed
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika (sweet)
  • 200g (1 cup) brown lentils
  • 1 litre (33.8 ounces or 4 1/4 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
  • 400g tin (14.5-ounce can) of peeled plum tomatoes
  • a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • a twist of black pepper
  • a handful of fresh spinach, shredded

Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the diced pancetta and cook until golden brown and crispy. Tip in the onions and cook until translucent.
  2. Add the garlic, quickly followed by the paprika and lentils. Top up with the chicken stock and tomatoes.
  3. Stir, cover with the lid, reduce the temperature to low and simmer until the lentils are cooked. Be careful not to let them stick.
  4. Once the lentils are tender, season the soup generously and add the handful of chopped parsley. Serve immediately with a little shredded spinach. It’s delicious with Irish soda bread.

Goulash Soup

This recipe has been in my recipe box forever. No, it's not vegetarian. Beef is cut into cubes and combined with lots of onions, shredded potatoes, and beef broth. The shredded potatoes melt into the both, thickening it without the use of cream or cornstarch. When the beef is tender, stir in diced potatoes and uncooked noodles and let them simmer until cooked to perfection.

Pork with Paprika, Mushrooms, and Sour Cream

This rich stew of braised cubes of pork and mushrooms is cloaked with a creamy savory sauce of Hungarian paprika and sour cream. I love to serve it over mashed potatoes or noodles, but for a carb-less option riced cauliflower would be good too.

Earthy Mushroom Stew

My recipe for earthy mushroom stew is an adaptation of a recipe that was originally published in the October 2006 issue of Sunset Magazine. Smoked paprika and tomato paste work together to provide a rich umami (meaty) flavor to this vegetarian dish.

Romesco Sauce

I was recently introduced to romesco sauce. I just stumbled upon the name while I was surfing the net (probably Pinterest). It looked good (the photo), the ingredients sounded interesting, and I had all of the ingredients on hand, so I gave it a whirl. Literally. I used a food processor. And I found that (1) romesco sauce tastes amazing and (2) but I was saddened to recognize all of the many years, yea decades, I had lived without it.

Romesco sauce goes with so many things. I love it as a dip for chips, veggies, whatever. Smear it on cooked chicken. Serve it alongside cooked shrimp. Spread it on crostini. I might even give up dessert for an extra portion of romesco. Trust me, it's that good!

So, What Do You Think?

Will you give paprika a try?

See results

Questions & Answers

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      • Carb Diva profile image
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        Linda Lum 5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Audrey, you are so very welcome. I enjoy doing the research on these topics; I'm learning right along with you.

      • vocalcoach profile image

        Audrey Hunt 5 weeks ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        I love lentils and will be following the lentil, tomato soup recipe this week. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

        I enjoyed the history lesson on paprika. Had no idea that Columbus discovered this spice. Thanks for another delicious set of recipes!

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Kari, I LOVE smoked paprika. It really does help give a "bacon-y" taste (if you use your imagination) to foods. I use it in my vegetarian chili and in potato-corn chowder. And the romesco truly is wonderful. Thanks for commenting.

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 5 weeks ago from Ohio

        I love these recipes!! I, also, never knew about Romesco sauce, but now I have to try it. I keep Hungarian paprika in the house. I need to find some Spanish smoked paprika. I just know I'm going to love it. Thanks for the recipes.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 5 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Thank you Flourish. I'm sure it's wonderful. Thanks for stopping by. I pray you are doing well.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 5 weeks ago from USA

        Paprika is the secret ingredient to one of the soups I make. It’s hard to describe but I would do without it! Wonderful article.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Margie you are absolutely right. It does provide some thickening qualities as well. Thanks so much for stopping by.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, I'm teaching the teacher? Who would have thunk it? Thanks so much.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 6 weeks ago from Washington State, USA

        Mary, I'm so glad that you liked this. It was fun researching.

      • Margie Lynn profile image

        Margie Lynn 6 weeks ago from Beautiful Texas Hill Country

        I use paprika in my chili it works like a thickening agent! I loved all your yummy recipe. Will try some soon! Thanks for sharing.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        I sure learn a lot of cool stuff from your articles...Columbus and paprika? who would have thunk it? :) Seriously good writing here and yes, I do use paprika when I'm struggling with some of my cooking.

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 6 weeks ago from Brazil

        Wow, I knew you would pull something great out of the hat. I may have to pick up a second bag of paprika if they still have it.

        I like the sound of all of these. I have already used it twice on pork similar to the first recipe. I've been over to have a look at your Ghoulash as well, that seems doable for me.

        I think I could get my husband to eat the romesco as well!

        Well, I have no excuses now.

        Thanks so much for these.

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