Key Ingredient
Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga



Many in this country still consider paprika a visual garnish rather than a flavor enhancer. But the spice is much more than a brightly colored powder. It is an important ingredient in Hungarian, Spanish, Turkish and Portuguese cuisine.

The basics: Paprika is made from a type of sweet pepper called pimento (the same red pepper that is stuffed in green olives). The pepper is dried, then finely ground into a powder. The pimento is native to South America, but it also flourishes in Spain and Hungary (the two largest paprika producers).

Paprika ranges from red to orange and from mild to very pungent, depending on the type of pepper it comes from. The peppers are sun-dried or dried over fire, which produces a kind of smoky paprika. Some brands of hot paprika will incorporate cayenne for an added kick.

Selecting: Paprika is available both sweet and hot, with smoky paprika becoming very popular. It is generally packaged in 2- to 5-ounce containers. Probably the most prominent brand is Szeged Hungarian paprika, which is named after the region in Hungary where paprika peppers flourish. Its signature container is bright red and rectangular.

Storing: Paprika should be kept in a cool and dry area where it will last up to six months. For longer storage place in the refrigerator. Like all spices, however, it should be replaced within a year.

Use: Remember that paprika's flavor is released only through heating. Simply sprinkling it over potato salad, deviled eggs or fish and chicken dishes only serves to add color.

For deeper flavor, incorporate paprika in slow-cooked soups, stews and braised dishes, allowing the spice to take on more complex flavors. Hungarian goulash, chicken paprika and Spanish romesco are signature paprika dishes. The spice can also be used in marinades and is an essential ingredient in certain sausages, such as chorizo.

Where to buy: Both sweet and hot paprika can be found in the supermarket spice aisle. Smoky paprika may require some hunting at a specialty food store. Prices vary depending on brand and quantity, but average $4 to $5 per container.

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
a free-lance food writer. Contact her
online through features@starbulletin.com

E-mail to Features Desk


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