By Dr. Mercola
Peppers are highly appreciated in many cuisines for their many benefits and uses. They’re one of the most common cooking ingredients used around the world, mainly because of the flavor they add to dishes. These spices can be used fresh or dried, and come in powdered form – one example of which is paprika.
Whether it’s for seasoning or garnishing, paprika has cemented itself as one of today’s most well-loved spices. Discover just what paprika spice can offer for your health, plus get tips on how to use it for cooking.
What Is Paprika?
Basically, paprika is a spice made from grounding up different varieties of Capsicum annuum peppers – these can include sweet bell peppers, hot red and/or peppers, and other varieties in between.1 It’s the fourth most-used spice around the world.2
Paprika is widely used in different cuisines, such as Indian, Spanish, Turkish and Moroccan. However, Hungary stands out among all these cuisines – in fact, their very own Hungarian paprika is believed to be one of the finest quality spices today.
But is paprika spicy? It depends. Compared to extremely spicy cayenne and jalapeno peppers, the bell peppers from which paprika is made is somewhat sweeter and more mellow.3 Thus, it makes sense that it’s milder in flavor, mainly because of its lower capsaicin levels.4 For this reason, paprika is not as spicy as cayenne or jalapeno powder. However, some mixes use chili peppers, which add a kick to the spice.
Paprika also come in various colors, ranging from bright red to brown. Surprisingly, red paprika is said to be the mildest, while those that are tan or yellow are often the spiciest.5 There are several distinct types of paprika, which are differentiated below:6
- Regular paprika is a blend of hot and sweet varieties. Because of its relatively neutral flavor, it works great as a garnish. It can also add color to your dishes.
- Hot paprika, which is quite similar to cayenne, is made from dried chili peppers. However, it’s less spicy.
- Sweet paprika, or Hungarian sweet paprika, is loved for its rich and fruity flavor – it can be described to taste like a red bell pepper but without any spiciness. Sweet Hungarian paprika is more flavorful than regular paprika, and is great as an all-around spice.
- Spanish smoked paprika (also called Pimenton de la Vera) is produced from dried chilies that are smoked over oak. This gives them a woody and smokey flavor (either sweet or spicy) that works great when added to stews and roast meats.
Some people complain on occasion that the paprika they bought is tasteless. The secret to this spice actually lies in the cooking process – you need to heat it to unlock its complex flavor. Add it at the end of the cooking process and you’ll get the deep, sweet/spicy and earthy aroma and taste.7
Health Benefits of Paprika
Adding a dash (or two) of paprika to your meals can, surprisingly, offer advantages to your health. It’s actually loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, carotenoids and antioxidants that can deliver many benefits to your body. Here are some of the benefits you can get from paprika:
• It may help maintain eye health. There are four carotenoids in paprika, namely lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene. All these function as antioxidants that may help prevent cellular damage.
Lutein and zeaxanthin in particular are essential for preventing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Meanwhile, beta-cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene are converted into vitamin A that is used in the eyes to turn light into vision and is a necessary component to produce the protein that makes skin.8
• Paprika helps promote blood formation and healthy circulation. The copper and iron in paprika are essential for the formation of new blood cells. This spice may also act as a vasodilator because of its high potassium levels, and may reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and atherosclerosis.9
• You may improve your sleep with paprika. The vitamin B6 in paprika may have efficient psychological and neurological effects. It also promotes melatonin production and enhances your levels of norepinephrine and serotonin, hormones that are linked to mood and happiness.10
• This spice may even help heal wounds. The vitamin E in paprika may aid in red blood cell production and even in forming clots to promote faster healing of cuts, scrapes and wounds.11
• May help relieve pain. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in peppers that gives them their spiciness, can relax blood vessels and relieve pain. It’s even used in topical creams.12
Growing Paprika: Tips to Remember
If you want to have paprika on hand, you can opt to grow your own paprika instead of buying the ready to use paprika powders in groceries. Paprika’s growing requirements are similar to other pepper varieties. They prefer fertile, well-draining soil, and thrive best in a sunny area.
You can grow paprika from seed, directly in soil – this is recommended for warm climates. If you live in a cold place, plant them indoors in pots first. Peppers are sensitive to cold weather.
When transferring potted peppers outdoors, make sure to put 12 inches in between each plant, in rows that are 3 feet apart. You can harvest the peppers anytime between summer and fall. When they’ve turned a bright red, that’s a sign that they’re ready for harvesting.
To dry the peppers, place them in a mesh bag and hang them in your attic or a heated room (around 130 to 150 degrees F). Once 85 percent of the pod’s weight has been lost, the paprika can be ground into a powder.13
How to Store Paprika and Prolong Its Shelf Life
Like other ground spices, paprika loses its flavor and potency after some time. Ideally, use paprika within six months to maximize its taste and aroma.
It’s also crucial to store it properly. Place the spice in an airtight container, in a cool or dark place. Instead of a clear glass container, place the spice in a dark tin container that will keep it away from direct light.14
Paprika Uses: One of the Most Versatile Kitchen Ingredients Out There
Many people are only familiar with paprika because it’s usually added as a garnish to dishes. Hummus looks fancy and presentable with a dash of red paprika. The same goes for deviled eggs. Paprika adds a red tint to sauces, stews and meats, too.
But don’t limit yourself to these uses. Paprika can actually be a versatile spice that can bring new depths to your favorite meals. Just take a look at the many uses of paprika around the world:15
- Hungary – Perhaps no other country in the world loves paprika more than Hungary. It’s considered their national spice and is featured in their national dish, goulash. Hungarians also love blending it into their fish, pasta, cheeses, sweet pastries and eggs.
- Mexico – it’s rubbed onto meats, added to salsas and sauces, and is even used as a filling option for dishes like chile relleno (stuffed poblano pepper).
- Argentina – A traditional dish called tortilla campesina, or a potato cake, uses paprika as a main ingredient.
- Thailand – Aside from being added to Pad Thai, it’s also used for curry pastes and condiments.
- Europe – People in England love adding paprika to their egg dishes, while in Germany, it is mixed in soups, stews, sausages, potatoes and vegetables. Meanwhile, Italians use paprika for seafood sauces as well as risottos, cheeses, and even to chocolate soufflé sauce.
One important tip when cooking with paprika: avoid burning it. Even accidentally leaving it for a few seconds over heat will make it bitter and unpalatable, so make sure to pay attention when using it. Ideally, paprika should be lightly cooked, fried in a little oil or added at the end of the cooking process so it will release its enticing aroma and flavor.
Paprika Recipes You Can Try
Paprika and Cumin Roasted Vegetables
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the vegetables with coconut oil, paprika, salt, cumin and pepper.
2. Place the veggies on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, shaking a few times during cooking, until vegetables are tender and cooked through.
This recipe makes four servings.
(Adapted from Slender Kitchen)
Chicken With Paprika Sauce
• 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
• 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
• 2 tablespoons coconut oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 4 plum tomatoes, diced
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• Salt and pepper
1. Cut chicken into strips (according to your preferred size).
2. In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with half the paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of pepper.
3. Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
4. Add chicken, cook, tossing occasionally, until opaque throughout, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to plate.
5. Heat the remaining coconut oil and in the same skillet.
6. Add onion, cook until browned and softened. Add remaining tablespoon paprika and stir, cooking, about 30 seconds.
7. Add tomatoes and 3/4 cup water, and cook until saucy.
8. Return chicken to skillet. Add in sour cream and cook until just heated through, without boiling.
9. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
This recipe makes four servings.
(Adapted from Food.com)
If you don’t have paprika powder on hand, don’t worry: you can simply substitute with other spices. Cajun spice, made from a blend of cayenne, black and white peppers, is a wonderful paprika substitute, especially since it’s not as spicy as cayenne. Aleppo pepper, chili powder and even red pepper flakes can all work as substitute for paprika as well, but you have to take note of the quantities.18
Paprika Oil: Another Great Way to Enjoy This Spice
If you want to preserve the flavor of paprika and ensure that it’s always on hand, you can simply make paprika oil. Here’s a simple technique to make paprika oil:19
• 2 tablespoons paprika
• 2 cups coconut oil
1. Place two teaspoons of paprika in a clear bottle or jar and pour in the coconut oil. Seal the container and place in a cool and dark place for a week. Make sure to shake the bottle occasionally.
2. Put a double layer of cheesecloth over a funnel and then transfer the oil into another bottle, straining out the powder.
There’s no doubt that paprika is one of the most versatile spices out there. Don’t just use it for decoration! Explore its potential by using it in your favorite recipes. You’ll never know, this may become your new favorite spice.