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No kitchen is complete without paprika.
It’s a staple in the spice rack – the fourth most common spice in the world – found next to salt and pepper in many cupboards.
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But what is sweet pepper really? It’s made with dried, ground peppers that are part of the annual capsicum species, but here’s a simplified look at this formidable spice.
There is a lot more sweet peppers than meets the eye, from their history to their many types. Let’s review the ins and outs of how sweet peppers came about and how different regions claimed part of the story behind this spice.
The history of paprika
Historians believe that these peppers were first cultivated in the area now occupied by Brazil and part of Bolivia.
It is difficult to determine where pepper originated in this vast region since the original cultivation occurred around 7000 BC.
Hot pepper was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his voyages to the New World at the end of the fifteenth century.
He brought them back to Europe and presented them to the King and Queen of Spain, who gave them to monasteries for cultivation.
The pepper plants from which sweet peppers would eventually be made were used as a decorative houseplant and spread from Spain throughout Europe.
The plant was introduced to Hungary by the Turks, who ruled the country from the 16th to the 17th centuries.
Over time, pepper became a staple in Spanish and Hungarian cuisine. While sweet peppers are grown in many places around the world, Spanish and Hungarian sweet peppers are the gold standards for this spice, and there are multiple varieties of each.
Paprika types: A world of flavor
Hungary and paprika go hand in hand – in fact paprika is Hungary’s national spice, so you know the love runs deep.
Paprika’s association with Hungary began with its cultivation in villages along the Danube. Longer days of sunshine and a dry climate provided the ideal conditions for the plant’s success.
Paprika came to star in one of Hungary’s most famous dishes — goulash, as well as in other dishes. In Hungary, peppers are dried in the sun before being ground.
There are eight types of sweet peppers from Hungary, and they vary in heat and redness but all have some distinct peppery flavour.
Hungarian sweet pepper varieties include kulon college, a variety of special quality. There is also a mixture of hot and light paprika called philidis.
The light, bright red variety most common in the Western world is called edesnemes.
The pepper used to make Spanish sweet peppers there is known as paprika and thrives in temperate climates. Their cultivation is limited to two parts of the country – the Guadalentin Valley and the Comarca de la Vera.
Unlike peppers from Hungary, Spanish sweet peppers are usually smoke-dried. To be smoke-dried, peppers are placed on a grid over a smoldering oak fire in specialized pens near pepper fields.
Once dried, it is ground into a powder with slow-moving stone wheels.
There are only three main types of Spanish sweet pepper – sweet, bitter, and hot.
The difference between species relates to the types of peppers and methods of processing them.
The sweet variety is made from cherry-shaped peppers, Spanish sweet peppers are made from long, dark red peppers, and sweet peppers are made from another type of long pepper.
In the hot variety, grind the seeds and ribs along with the rest of the pepper.
The pepper used to make regular paprika is more mysterious in origin when compared to Spanish and Hungarian paprika.
It can come from any of the paprika producing countries around the world including the United States, China or Zimbabwe in Africa.
Regular sweet peppers are usually mild in flavor and are mostly used due to their bright red colour, which makes them an attractive garnish.
As mentioned, red pepper is a staple in Hungarian and Spanish recipes.
But any kind of sweet pepper can be a great service in the kitchen. It works wonders as a garnish, especially with a splash of color atop soups and appetizers.
And as a flavor enhancer, it also works well. There is a real pepper flavor here and it depends a lot more on the type of sweet pepper you choose.
While sweet peppers are often mild, there are hotter varieties.
Paprika can be used in place of fiery seasonings like chili (especially if you want a little more flavor than the neutral taste of the chili) and smoked paprika is an excellent addition to barbecue, hot sauces and chutneys to add an earthy flavor to the touch—especially if you want something a little less spicy than chipotle peppers. The famous and the smoker alike.
And now let’s get to the benefits of it.
8 Science-Backed Benefits of Paprika
Paprika is a spice made from the dried peppers of the Capsicum annual plant.
It comes in sweet, smoky, and hot varieties, as well as a variety of colors, such as red, orange, and yellow. Sweet peppers are used all over the world, especially in rice dishes and stews.
Not only are they rich in antioxidants, but they are also rich in vitamins and minerals.
Here are 8 science-backed health benefits of sweet peppers.
1. loaded with nutrients
Sweet peppers are packed with micronutrients and beneficial compounds.
Notably, 1 tablespoon (6.8 grams) provides approximately 20% of your daily vitamin A needs.
This spice also contains a variety of antioxidants, which fight cell damage caused by reactive molecules called free radicals.
Free radical damage is linked to chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. As such, eating foods rich in antioxidants may help prevent these conditions.
2. May promote healthy vision
Nutrients in paprika, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, have been linked to better eye health and a lower risk of cataracts and AMD.
3. May reduce inflammation
The anti-inflammatory compound capsaicin in paprika may treat pain and fight inflammation associated with a variety of conditions, though more studies are necessary.
4. May improve your cholesterol levels
Sweet peppers may benefit cholesterol levels in the blood.
In particular, capsanthin, a carotenoid in this popular spice, may raise levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
The carotenoids in paprika may also help reduce levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, which are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
5. May have anticancer effects
Several compounds in paprika may protect against cancer.
Several carotenoids of sweet peppers, including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, have been shown to fight oxidative stress, which is thought to increase the risk of some cancers.
Furthermore, the capsaicin in paprika may inhibit the growth and survival of cancer cells by affecting the expression of several genes (26Trusted Source).
However, more extensive research is needed on the anti-cancer potential of this spice.
6. May improve blood sugar control
The capsaicin in paprika may help manage diabetes.
This is because capsaicin may affect the genes responsible for controlling blood sugar and block enzymes that break down sugar in the body. It may also improve insulin sensitivity.
7. Important for healthy blood
Paprika is rich in iron and vitamin E, two micronutrients that are essential for healthy blood.
Iron is an important part of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that helps carry oxygen around the body, while vitamin E is essential for creating healthy membranes for these cells (31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source).
Therefore, a deficiency in any of these nutrients may result in a low red blood cell count. This can cause anemia, a condition characterized by tiredness, pale skin, and shortness of breath.
What’s more, animal studies suggest that vitamin E is highly effective at repairing damage to red blood cells — and that deficiency in this vitamin may lead to anemia.
8. Easy to add to your diet
Paprika is a versatile spice that can be incorporated into many dishes.
It comes in three main varieties that vary in taste and color based on the cultivation and processing of the pepper.
In addition to its sweetness, sweet paprika has a touch of smoke. It can be used as a seasoning for meat, potato salad and eggs.
Sweet peppers, on the other hand, provide a spicy kick and are often added to soups and stews such as Hungarian goulash.
Finally, the sweet, smoky flavor of smoked paprika works best with rice, lentil, and bean dishes.
You can also add paprika to simple everyday meals by sprinkling a dash on hard-boiled eggs, chopped vegetables, dips, cooked rice, roasted potatoes, and salads.
Although paprika supplements are also available, there is very limited research on their safety and effectiveness.
Paprika is a colored condiment derived from ground pepper.
It offers a variety of beneficial compounds, including vitamin A, capsaicin, and carotenoid antioxidants. These substances may help prevent inflammation and improve cholesterol, eye health, and blood sugar levels, among other benefits.
You can add this spice to a variety of dishes, including meats, vegetables, soups, and eggs.