Paprika - A guide to including nutritional and medicinal information and some recipe ideas.
Paprika is a spice that comes from a type of sweet red pepper sometimes known as the paprika pepper (Capsicum annum). The seeds are removed from the fruit and the peppers are then dried and subsequently ground down into a deep red powder.
There are different varieties of the paprika pepper, which are grown in different parts of the world and this means that some varieties of paprika will have a different flavour and strength to others.
Capsicum peppers also include chillies and all capsicum peppers are from the same family as tomatoes, potatoes and deadly nightshade.
History of paprika
Capsicum peppers are native to tropical South America and the West Indies and were probably not introduced into Europe and other parts of the world until after the 16th century.
Originally, the tropical paprika pepper was much hotter and fiery in taste than it is now. Over time and due to different climates, types of soil and growing conditions, the paprika pepper has evolved into a somewhat milder and sweeter variety of its ancestor.
Paprika peppers are commercially produced in Spain, California and Hungary and it is the latter variety that is famed throughout the world for its flavour and quality.
Paprika from Spain and the US are particularly mild and sweet in strength and flavour, however Hungarian paprika is much richer, flavoursome and robust.
Paprika is central to Hungarian cooking and it is the spice that is most used in all types of dishes.
In many other cuisines, paprika is used solely for its colour and as a garnish; however, in Hungary paprika is also prized for its flavour.
There are six varieties of Hungarian paprika that range from delicate to hot and fiery. In comparison, the Spanish variety has only three grades (sweet, semi-sweet and hot).
Hungary's most famed dish, goulash, is also the national dish of the country and the flavour of the whole dish is based on the paprika spice. Goulash is a type of thick and spicy stew that is made from beef, onions and heaps of paprika.
Nutritional value of paprika
Red peppers have been found to contain as much as seven times the amount of Vitamin C as oranges and other types of citrus fruit. However, due to the high temperatures undergone during the drying process when preparing the paprika spice, much of the Vitamin C content is lost.
Nevertheless, paprika is still a very good source of Vitamin C and is an excellent source of Vitamin A. It also contains Vitamins E and K, which are vital for the health of the veins and capillaries in the body.
With regards to mineral content, paprika is a good source of iron and potassium and also contains levels of magnesium, phosphorous and potassium.
Medicinal value of paprika
Paprika is probably best valued for its high Vitamin A, C, E and K content (see Guide to vitamins for more information).
As the paprika pepper belongs to the same family as the chilli, it has many of the same therapeutic qualities. However, the hotter the pepper or chilli, the higher the amount of capsaicin, a highly beneficial and medicinal component found in these vegetables.
As paprika is not as strong as the cayenne or chilli pepper, its therapeutic effects are not as pronounced as its hotter counterparts.
Despite this paprika is known to be an excellent stimulant and energiser, which is particularly useful in poor circulation, tiredness, lethargy and depression. (For other related therapeutic properties see Guide to cayenne).
Buying and storing paprika
Paprika can be bought from your local supermarket. It is usually sold in an airtight glass container or jar.
You will most likely find the sweeter and milder varieties of paprika in your local store and for the hotter type you might have to look elsewhere in a specialist market or shop.
Paprika should be stored in a cool and dark cupboard away from direct sunlight, as it has a tendency to deteriorate quite quickly. For this reason, if you only use paprika occasionally, it is best to buy the spice in small quantities, as it will only last for a few months.
Cooking with paprika
Care must be taken when cooking with paprika. Due to the high sugar content contained in the spice, if paprika is fried for too long or at a temperature that is too high, it will rapidly turn bitter. This can happen in the matter of a few seconds and could potentially spoil and good plate of food.
However, the longer the paprika is fried, the more flavour is released. Therefore, some people consider it a great skill to prepare a highly flavoursome goulash for example, that is rich in body yet has no hint of bitterness whatsoever.
For the best and safest results, cook paprika in some form of liquid and do not heat for too long.
Culinary uses of paprika
In many parts of the world paprika is respected for its colour only and not for its flavour. For those who prefer a hotter spice, they will be more inclined to cook with either cayenne or chilli. For this reason paprika is mainly used as a garnish for dishes such as egg mayonnaise or potato salad.
In Spain, where it is slightly more popular, paprika is used to flavour certain types of sausage and cured meats, such as "chorizo" and "sobrasada". It is also used in stews, sauces and to flavour seafood and shellfish.
Commercially paprika is included in a variety of products ranging from cheeses to tomato sauces, soups and spice blends.
In Eastern European cooking there are many more uses for paprika. As well as the main flavouring for goulash, paprika is also used in chicken, cabbage, potato and other vegetable dishes.
Paprika can also be added to meat and fish marinades, rubs and sauces for a milder and sweeter flavour.
A collection of recipes that include paprika as a main flavouring and ingredient, including recipes for beef goulash, spicy fried chicken pieces and spicy cod and mango stir-fry.
Goulash, a thick, rich and flavoursome beef stew is the national dish of Hungary. The secret is to cook the dish slowly in order to bring out the best flavours of all the ingredients and to ensure that the meat is tender and soft.
- 1 lb 10 oz (740 g) of lean stewing steak, cut into chunks
- 20 fl oz (600 ml) of beef stock
- 14 oz (400 g) tin of chopped tomatoes
- 6 oz (170 g) of sliced mushrooms
- 1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
- 1 chopped onion
- 1 crushed clove of garlic
- 2 tbsp of paprika
- 2 tbsp of tomato purée
- 2 tbsp of lard
- 1 tbsp of cornflour
- 1 tbsp of water
- freshly chopped parsley to garnish
- salt and pepper
- Heat the lard in a large frying pan or heavy-based saucepan.
- Add the chopped onion and garlic and fry over a medium heat for about 5 - 6 minutes.
- Add the chunks of beef and fry until browned all over (3 - 4 minutes).
- Add the paprika and coat the meat in the spice.
- Do not let the paprika cook for too long. Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, chopped red pepper and the mushrooms and mix all of the ingredients together. Cook for a further 3 - 4 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Carefully add the beef stock and bring to the boil.
- Reduce the heat and cover the pan. Cook on a low simmer for 1½ - 2 hours or until the meat is soft. Keep an eye on the dish during cooking and stir regularly.
- In a small cup or mixing bowl, combine the cornflour with the water until a paste has formed. Add to the pan and stir well until the goulash has thickened.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Once the desired texture and flavour has been reached serve the goulash hot with rice or potatoes.
Spicy Fried Chicken Pieces
You can use chicken drumsticks in this recipe. The chicken is soaked in buttermilk, coated in a flour and paprika mixture, fried in oil and then left to cook slowly until cooked though and crispy.
- 3 lb (1.35 kg) of chicken pieces (drumsticks)
- 4 fl oz (115 ml) of buttermilk
- 2 oz (55 g) of plain flour
- 1 tbsp of paprika
- 1 tbsp of water
- 1 tsp of black pepper
- vegetable oil for frying
- Place the buttermilk into a large bowl and add the chicken drumsticks.
- Mix together and leave to one side for 5 minutes.
- Heat ½ inch of vegetable oil in a large frying pan.
- Place the flour together with the paprika and pepper in a bowl and combine.
- Take a piece of chicken and dip it into the flour mixture, coating it evenly all over.
- Repeat with the remaining pieces of chicken.
- Fry the chicken pieces in the hot oil for about 10 minutes, turning halfway through cooking time to ensure a light brown coating all over.
- Once the chicken pieces are browned, reduce the heat to low and add the water.
- Cover the pan with a lid and continue to cook over a gentle heat for a further 30 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over at regular intervals.
- Remove the lid and cook further until the coating is crispy and the chicken is tender.
- Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot or cold.
Spicy Cod and Mango Stir-Fry
This is an exotic and exciting recipe for cod, which is perfectly partnered with green and orange peppers, baby corn, bean sprouts and mango.
- 1 lb (455 g) of skinless cod fillet
- 3½ oz (100 g) of baby corn
- 3½ oz (100 g) of bean sprouts
- 1 sliced green pepper
- 1 sliced orange pepper
- 1 sliced mango
- 1 sliced red onion
- 2 tbsp of tomato ketchup
- 2 tbsp of soy sauce
- 2 tbsp of medium sherry
- 2 tbsp of sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp of paprika
- 1 tsp of cornflour
- Rinse the fish under a cold running tap and then pat dry with kitchen towel.
- Slice the cod into thin strips with a sharp knife.
- Place the cod into a bowl or dish and add the paprika. Coat the fish with the spice and set to one side.
- Heat the oil in a large wok.
- Add the sliced onion, peppers and baby corn and stir-fry for about 4 - 5 minutes, mixing all the ingredients together.
- Add the sliced cod and the mango and cook for a further 3 minutes until the cod is cooked through.
- Finally add the bean sprouts and mix well.
- In a small mixing bowl, blend together the tomato ketchup, soy sauce, sherry and the cornflour with a spoon until smooth.
- Add the mixture to the wok and stir well.
- Cook until the juices have been thickened by the cornflour (2 minutes).
- Transfer the stir-fry to individual serving dishes and serve hot with noodles or rice.