Paprika is the national spice of Hungary, and Americans are familiar with certain Hungarian dishes that are famous for their use of this spice: Chicken Paprikás and Hungarian Gulyas. In my book, DEATH IN A BUDAPEST BUTTERFLY, the Hungarians would not consider cooking without this essential spice.
But what is paprika? What makes it so special?
Paprika, a powder derived from air-drying sweet peppers, actually originated in Mexico, where the pepper plants grow in the wild. But long ago, when Buda was still separated from Pest, Turks began growing the spice on the shores of the Danube, an ideal spot for growing. Hungarian paprika developed its own distinctive flavor. Initially it was a hot spice, but eventually a breeder developed a sweet version as well. Now there are several varieties of Hungarian paprika.
From Budapest by Locals Blog: https://www.budapestbylocals.com/hungarian-paprika.html
“In the shops you can find 8 brands of the spice varying in colour and pungency:
- Special quality (Különleges) – this is the mildest of all and has the most vibrant red colour
- Delicate (csípősmentes csemege)-mild with rich flavour,
- Exquisite delicate (csemege) –slightly more pungent than the Delicate,
- Pungent Exquisite delicate (csípős csemege), even more pungent
- Noble sweet (édesnemes) – the most common type, slightly pungent with bright red colour,
- Half-sweet (félédes) – a medium-pungent
- Rose (rózsa) – light red colour, mildly pungent
- Hot (erős) – the hottest of all paprikas, light brown-orange colour.”
In Hungary, paprika is grown in two main regions: Szeged and Kalocsa. According to Food Tour Budapest, (link here: http://www.foodtourbudapest.com/blog/paprika-harvest), “Franciscan monks are said to be the first people who brought paprika to Szeged from their wandering around the Balkan region. They soaked the paprika in pálinka and used it to heal insect bites or malaria. (http://www.latogatobarat.hu/en). Due to the healing fact and the lack of pepper in the country during the Napoleon wars, (he banned bringing any spices from the Middle East), paprika became more and more popular in the region.”
If you want to cook with Hungarian paprika, you need to check your label carefully to make sure that it’s really imported from Hungary. Hungarian paprika has such a good reputation that other paprika-producers will try to imply that theirs is from Hungary with misleading labels.
When it comes to cooking with this delicious spice, finding the right paprika can make all the difference to your final result.