According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word comes from the Hungarian “paprika”, which derives from the Serbian and Croatian “paprika”, which is a diminutive of “papar”, which in turn was derived from the Latin “piper”, for “pepper.” It’s scientific name is Capsicum annuum

In the United States, the term paprika simply means any non pungent red chile, mostly New Mexican pod types that have had their pungency genetically removed. In Europe, however, paprika has much greater depth, having not only distinct pod types but also specific grades of the powders made from these sub types.

Paprikas derive their colour in the ripe state mainly from carotenoid pigments, which range from bright red (capsanthrine, capsorubin and more) to yellow (cucubitene); total carotenoid content in dried paprika is 0.1 to 0.5%.

All varieties of capsicum including the bell peppers used to make paprika have a high vitamin C content (150–250 mg/100 g). In 1932, the Hungarian scientist Albert Szent-Györgyi, using Vitamin C from a red pepper, proved that scurvy was caused by Vitamin C deficiency, receiving the Nobel price for his discovery.

Some varieties of paprika contain pigments of anthocyanin type and develop dark purple, aubergine-coloured or almost black pods; in the last stage of ripening, however, the anthocyanins get decomposed, and the unusual darkness thus gives way to normal orange or red colours. The same anthocyanins cause the dark spots which are sometimes seen on unripe fruits or particularly the stems of paprika plants and which almost all paprika varieties can develop. In other Capsicum species, anthocyanin production is a rare phenomenon.

Paprika is principally used as an ingredient in a broad variety of dishes throughout the world. Paprika (pimentón in Spain, colorau in Portugal) is principally used to season and color rices, stews, and soups, such as goulash. In Spain, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Turkey and Portugal, paprika is also used in the preparation of sausages as an ingredient that is mixed with meats and other spices. Olives are also commonly stuffed with minced portions of these peppers. Instead of eating, paprika may be smoked for additional flavour. In India, paprika comes from a pepper called ‘deghi mirchi’. The pepper is grown widely and takes on a slightly different flavor depending on local soil and climatic conditions.

Cooking with paprika

The main thing to remember is that paprika only releases its color and flavor when heated. Thus, sprinkling ground paprika over colorless dishes may improve their appearance, but does little for their flavor–in Hungary, this is called “a feast for the eyes” and is used as a garnish, not as a flavoring. Similarly, if you want to color the contents of a dish, stir the red powder into a little hot oil before adding.

If using ground paprika in a roux (a mixture of flour and fat), or adding it to onions, first remove the saucepan from the heat–and do not return to the heat until liquid has been added to the roux or the fat combined with any other ingredients that have a high water content, such as meat, potatoes, etc. This is essential, since paprika has a high sugar content and therefore burns easily. If the paprika burns, it will turn brown and develop a bitter flavor.

Usually, sweet or slightly hot paprika are used, unless the cook knows for certain that the guests enjoy (and suffer no ill effects from) spicy dishes. Alternatively, fresh green or dried hot red pepper pods can be served with the meal. The ground powder can be used freely as a seasoning; most recipes call for teaspoons or tablespoons, rather than pinches. In powdered form, paprika also adds consistency as well as flavor.

Kept in a cool, dark place, paprika retains its flavor for six to eight months. After that, it begins to lose its color and aroma, but can still be used.

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