Monday, 3 March 2008

Paprika: a savoury and colourful condiment

Originary from America, paprika is an ever present condiment in any Spanish larder. The main secret lies in discerning the dishes that would benefit from adding just a pinch of this aromatic product.

Paprika was juts one of the many food products that arrived to Europe after the discovery of America in the 15th century. The shapes, tastes and colours that the botanists came across with, as they went deep into the “new” continent, were extraordinarily diverse. However, the sweet varieties seemed to adjust themselves better to our climate.

Although this product probably reached Spanish territory soon after 1492, it took another century before its farming and use became widespread. In the areas of La Vera (Extremadura) and la Ñora (Murcia) the monks are credited with introducing the cultivation of peppers and producing paprika during the 16th century. Their secret was not kept behind the secluded doors of these monasteries for long and it soon reached the villagers, who also started growing this product. By the 17th century, paprika production had developed into a proper industry. Today the condiment prepared in both counties is protected by the respective Denomination of Origin (D.O.) stamp.

Specifically, paprika from La Vera is made with premium-quality red peppers grown in the area and produced following the traditional drying process over oak or holm oak wood smoke. Hence its peculiar and intense smoky aroma, which is widely appreciated by knowledgeable chefs. According to their taste, there are three categories of paprika: sweet -made with Bola and Jaranda varieties-, bittersweet -slightly spicy and prepared with the Jaranda and Jariza kinds- and finally hot paprika, which is produced with Jeromín, Jariza and Jaranda types.

With regard to paprika from Murcia, this is made only with red peppers of the Bola variety. These fruits present a bright red colour, round shape and a delicious sweet taste. Once recollected, they are generally left to sun-dry, although they may also be placed in hot air drying rooms. Once they have dried up, they are grinded until the desired texture is achieved.

Paprika enhances the taste of many dishes. It can be used, for example, to season or to prepare marinades for meat and vegetable kebabs by adding a teaspoon to a glass of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon. It is a basic ingredient of the popular “Pulpo a la gallega” (octopus cooked in Galician style) and it can also be found in a wide range of sauces that acompany eggs, pasta, fish or meat alike.

For a fine selection of Spanish spices please visit our Spanish food online store.


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