Paprika is a red spice made from dried bell peppers that have been ground into tiny particles. While many people typically think of Hungarian foods when they think of the spice — especially since the name comes from the Hungarian — there are many European countries that use the seasoning regularly to both color and flavor foods. It is added to soups and stews, sprinkled over the tops of meats, or forms part of many grilling rubs or seasonings. Paprika is also a common ingredient in sausages, especially those produced in Spain, Portugal, and Germany.
With its often mild flavor and light aroma, paprika is not usually spicy like the seasonings made from chili peppers. This makes sense, since the red bell pepper is a rather sweet and mellow fruit. This spice can add a little heat to a dish, however, especially when certain varieties are used. Yellow to light tan seasonings are often the spiciest, while the red is usually fairly mild.
There are also different grades of paprika, though not many are sold in standard US grocery stores. In Hungary, each grade can yield very different flavors. A few sample grades include the following:
- Hotor Eros — usually light brown and containing lots of heat.
- Special Quality — most mild and usually bright red.
- Noble Sweet — bright red and medium flavor.
Noble Sweet variants are what most Americans commonly buy in the grocery store. This form tends to be favored because of its bright color, good taste, and fairly mild “heat” quotient. Hungary exports more of this grade more than any other form.
Because of its flavor, paprika is a common ingredient in seasoning mixes that don’t include salt. Any type of home made meat rubs or grill seasonings with this spice can add lots of flavor without adding extra sodium, and a few of these blends available at natural food stores are also low in salt or contain no salt. A spice mix like this can liven up food without leaving diners feeling bloated or raising blood pressure. Although many people think of Hungarian Goulash when they think of paprika, the spice can also be added to Mexican and Latin American dishes, Moroccan foods, chili, and salad dressings.