It’s bright red with an intense smoky flavor, sometimes sweet and sometimes sweat-inducing hot. We know Paprika when we taste it, and yet most of us only use this spice in the banalest ways such as adding a pop of bright garnishment to our deviled eggs or salad.
Paprika offers a much more intricate and wonderfully layered ingredient option than simple garnishment. From smoky dips to spicy soups and sweet glazes, unlocking the mysteries of paprika will open your culinary world to a range of new possibilities!
What is Paprika?
There is nothing simplistic about this chameleon-like spice. It’s made from various plant-based foods with a range of distinct flavors and levels of heat. Paprika is ground from a handful of dried fruits and peppers such as sweet pepper, bell pepper, and hot chilies. What we know as “traditional paprika” — a milder, pungent, and lightly smoky spice — is ground from tomato peppers. Generally, paprika ranges between sweet, mild, and spicy hot. Sweet paprika is made from the pericarp or outer flesh of the fruit, while spicier versions include almost all of the fruit plant. Paprika is often thought of as a Hungarian spice, yet it actually originated in the New World (Mexico and North America) before making its way to Spain and beyond in the 16th century.
This colorful spice is great for both garnishment and cooking, comes in multiple varieties, and has some incredibly powerful health benefits!
Varieties of Paprika
What’s the difference between fruit-based paprika and chili-based paprika? How best are all of these varieties used? These are questions that bare answering when beginning to integrate paprika into your cooking regimen. While creative experimentation is always a great way to familiarize yourself with a new spice, understanding the sources and flavors of the different varieties of paprika is a helpful step to successful use!
“Traditional” or Basic Paprika
Traditional paprika can be found in the baking or spice section of any grocery store and will have the simple identifier of “paprika” on the bottle. Generally, basic paprika is used to sprinkle on top of certain dishes only for its bright and beautiful color. Basic paprika is extremely mild and flavor neutral.
It’s no accident that paprika is associated with the Hungarian culture. They simply adore this spice and favor it in their national dish of Goulash. Yet, the paprika used in Hungarian dishes differs vastly from traditional paprika found in North American grocery stores. Hungarian paprika has a wide range of flavor profiles from “mild and bright red to spicy, pungent, and pale orange.” The most widely-used in the states is called “Sweet Hungarian Paprika” and is an exquisite mixture of sweet and spicy.
Paprika made its way from the New World to Spain in the 16th century. Since that time, the Spanish have created their own take on this malleable spice. Instead of sweet or spicy peppers, Spanish Paprika is made from smoked peppers giving it a deep and rich smoky flavor. Yet, this doesn’t mean you can’t find varying levels of sweet and spice within the domineering smoky flavor. Spanish paprika does include sweet smoky (dulce), mild or bitter smoky (agrodulce), and hot smoky (picante) flavors.
Health Benefits of Paprika
Like most plant-based products, paprika offers a host of natural health benefits. Due to its make, from fruits to chilies, paprika has the added benefit of cohabitating a variety of nutrients. This mixing of originative sources offers up an interesting mixture and powerful punch of beneficial properties.
Peppers, the source of paprika powder, are key to this spices ability to fight disease via the high level of antioxidants. Due to these antioxidants, paprika is a powerhouse when it comes to fighting oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when the body is unable to halt reactive oxygen, also known as free radicals, or repair said damage caused by this imbalance. Paprika has a variety of antioxidants including carotenoids which includes beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
You don’t generally worry about eye health until there’s something to worry about. In order to avoid eye issues, incorporate paprika into your diet! Not only does paprika protect against eye-related disease due to its high antioxidant levels, but it also aids to overall eye health. This is because paprika has, among many other nutrients, vitamin B6, a water-soluble vitamin ingested through food. While vitamin B6 is not a cure, it can help to prevent or slow eye-related diseases such as macular degeneration.
Immunity boosting spices are few and far between, which makes paprika an essential part of a balanced nutrition-rich diet. This is due to the fact that paprika has a large amount of vitamin A, offering 1,100 international units for just one teaspoon. Vitamin A is an important nutrient when it comes to eyesight, neurological function, inflammation, skin, thyroid function, and immunity.
How to Use Paprika:
All of the beautiful and delicate aspects of paprika — from it’s sultry burnt red coloring to its sweat-inducing heat — make it an incredibly diverse spice to use in the kitchen.
As a Garnish:
Deviled Veggs/One Green Planet
As mentioned in our variety section, basic paprika is a great garnishing agent to decorate and finish of a plated meal. When it comes to garnishment, paprika is well-known as the added dash of brilliant, warm red be-speckling deviled eggs, such as this vegan version Deviled Veggs. Yet, it’s also a great addition to soups and stews such as this Poached Tofu Shakshuka, Turkish Tomato, Bulgur, and Red Pepper Soup, or this Loaded Baked Potato and Cauliflower Soup.
As Seasoning, Glazes, and Dips
Smoky White Bean and Roasted Yellow Pepper Hummus/One Green Planet
Paprika is also a great addition to seasoning and glazes. Depending on the variety used, you can add a hint of smoke, a punch of spice, or a sweet note to any dish. Try making this paprika-based Homemade Cajun Seasoning, Homemade Caribbean Spice Blend, or this Lentil Loaf With Smoked Paprika Glaze. Paprika is also a popular ingredient in a variety of dips such as this Smoky White Bean and Roasted Yellow Pepper Hummus, Cashew and Salsa Queso Dip, or this Smoked Cashew Cheese Spread.
Something Different from Around the Globe
Moroccan-Style Stuffed Butternut Squash/One Green Planet
Even though paprika originated in the Americas it quickly becomes a staple in many different culture’s foods. From Hungary to Spain, Africa to Asia, paprika is found on almost every continent and in thousands of dishes not native to the states. Creating paprika-based dishes from around the world is a great way to integrate the spice into your diet, while also invigorating a boring diet routine.
Try a few of these globally inspired plant-based and paprika filled dishes: High-Protein Jamaica Jerk Chili With Tempeh, Vegetable Paella, Turkish Dumplings With Yogurt and Paprika Sauce, Curry Spiced Thai Noodles, or Moroccan-Style Stuffed Butternut Squash.
For more paprika-rich recipes we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Shutterstock