In House and Leisure‘s September issue, we explore spice-infused recipes that are vibrant, textural and eye-catching, reminiscent of a painter’s palette and proof that food really can be a work of art. In a four-week series, we look at the history behind some of these spices. Last week we explored the history of za’atar, and now we dive into paprika.
In its most basic form, paprika is made up of ground, dried bell peppers, but owing to its popularity, it comes in a range of different flavours, some spicier than others. Spanish paprika makes use of chilli peppers to give it more of a zing, and Spanish pimenton is a deep-red, smoked version. The popular Hungarian paprika has sweet, slightly fruity taste and is very mildly spicy – it is often paired with salt as an alternative to black pepper in Hungarian homes.
Originally this spice came from Mexico, where it was made from peppers native to the region. Although predominantly used for seasoning, it also had health benefits, as many spices do. A cup of chopped red peppers contains more than triple the Vitamin C of an orange and, while the heat of modern drying destroys much of the nutrients in paprika, sweet peppers contain high doses of beta-carotene which are then converted to Vitamin A once consumed.
In the 16th century it was brought to Spain as a decorative plant, allegedly by Christopher Columbus. It then made its way through Asia and Africa, where different varieties began to develop, until it eventually made it to Hungary where the flavoursome taste we know today was developed (and where the word ‘paprika’ originated).
Besides being used for its unique flavour or health benefits, paprika is also used a colourant because of its brilliant red hue, making it a truly versatile spice.