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Paprika is a spice made from air-dried fruits of the chili pepper family of the species Capsicum annuum. Although paprika is often associated with Hungarian cuisine, the chilies from which it is made are native to the New World. Spain and Portugal introduced C. annuum to the Old World from the Americas. Spanish pimentón, as it is known there, is often smoked, giving it a unique, earthy flavor. The seasoning is also used to add color and flavor to many types of dishes in the cuisines of Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Morocco, and South Africa.
The use of paprika expanded from Iberia throughout Africa and Asia, and ultimately reached Central Europe through the Balkans, which were under Ottoman rule, explaining the Hungarian origin of the modern English term. In Spanish, paprika has been known as pimentón since the 1500s, when it became a typical ingredient of the western region of Extremadura. Despite its presence in Central Europe since the beginning of Ottoman conquests, it did not become popular in Hungary until the late 19th century.
Central European paprika was hot until the 1920s, when a Szeged breeder found one plant that produced sweet fruit. This was grafted onto other plants. Nowadays, paprika can range from mild to hot, and flavors also vary from country to country, but almost all the plants grown produce the sweet variety. The sweet paprika is mostly pericarp with more than half of the seeds removed, whereas hot paprika contains some seeds, placentas, calyces, and stalks.
In many European languages, the word paprika also or only refers to the Capsicum fruit itself.
The plant that makes the Hungarian version of the spice was grown from 1529 by the Turks at Buda (now part of the capital of Hungary, Budapest). The first recorded use of the word "paprika" in English is from 1896. It came from the Hungarian word paprika, which was a diminutive of the Serbian and Croatian word papar (meaning "pepper"), which in turn came from the Latin piper or modern Greek piperi. Paprika and similar words, peperke, piperke, and paparka, are used in various other Slavic languages in the Balkans for bell peppers.
The two Spanish varieties of paprika known in Spain as pimentón come from the Comarca de La Vera in Cáceres province and a variety from Murcia region, both of which were introduced from the Americas, where they originated, by local monks some time in the 1500s.
The word "paprika" entered a large number of languages, in many cases probably via German. Many European languages use a similar word, while examples from other languages include the Hebrew paprika [פפריקה] and the Japanese papurika [パプリカ].
Paprika is produced in various places including Hungary, Serbia, Spain and some regions of the United States. It is used as an ingredient in a broad variety of dishes throughout the world. It is principally used to season and color rices, stews, and soups, such as goulash, and in the preparation of sausages as an ingredient mixed with meats and other spices. In the United States, paprika is frequently sprinkled on foods as a garnish, but the flavor is more effectively produced by heating it gently in oil.
Spanish paprika (pimentón) is available in three versions — mild (pimentón dulce), moderately spicy (pimentón agridulce), and very spicy (pimentón picante). Some Spanish paprika, including pimentón de la Vera has a distinct smoky flavor and aroma, as it is dried by smoking, typically using oak wood.
Hungary is a major source of commonly used paprika. It is available in grades ranging as:
Hungarian paprika is often specified in recipes, because it is unique. It is bright red and said to be sweeter than the same paprika grown in other soils and climates. Other paprika types have their unique niche, so it is important to use the type of paprika specified in recipes (if specified), unless it is used in small quantities. In "paprikash" (paprika gravy, a combination of broth, paprika, and sour cream), paprika is used by the tablespoonful. In such instances, Hungarian paprika is preferred.
"The Hungarian varieties are more robust and considered superior. The Spanish varieties are sweeter and milder. Most tables in Hungary are set with salt and hot paprika (not black pepper) shakers. One particular variety, the 'rose', known for its sweet aroma and brilliant color, is prized above all others. Hungarian agricultural authorities fiercely guard their plants and seeds and twice as much acreage is devoted to peppers as any other crop."
"Due to the favourable climate and geographical conditions, Hungarian paprika has a bright red colour and a distinctive rich flavour that allowed Hungary to became one of the leading paprika producers in the world ... Kalocsa and Szeged in the southern part of Hungary are the heart of paprika production in Hungary. These regions have the highest amount of sunny hours a year and paprika plants need lots of sunshine to get ripe and sweet."
The Netherlands is a major production and distribution source of paprika, as well, especially grown in greenhouses.
In Moroccan cuisine, paprika (tahmira) is usually found augmented by the addition of a small amount of olive oil blended into it.
Paprika can also be used with henna to bring a reddish tint to hair when coloring it. Paprika powder can be added to henna powder when prepared at home.
According to the USDA, 1 tbsp (6.8 g) of paprika has this nutritional content:
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