Paprika: Spice Up Your Meals and Your Health With This Extraordinary Seasoning
Story at-a-glance –
- Paprika is a spice made from grounding up different varieties of Capsicum annuum peppers — these can include sweet bell peppers, hot red and/or peppers and other varieties in between
- Paprika is loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, carotenoids and antioxidants that can deliver many benefits to your body
Peppers are highly appreciated in many cuisines for their many benefits and uses. They’re one of the most common cooking ingredients used around the world, mainly because of the flavor they add to dishes. These spices can be used fresh or dried, and come in powdered form – one example of which is paprika.
Whether it’s for seasoning or garnishing, paprika has cemented itself as one of today’s most well-loved spices. Discover just what paprika spice can offer for your health, plus get tips on how to use it for cooking.
Paprika is a spice made from grounding up different varieties of Capsicum annuum peppers — these can include sweet bell peppers, hot red and/or peppers and other varieties in between.1 Although some websites might beg to differ, according to The Kitchn, it’s the fourth most-used spice around the world.2
Paprika is widely used in different cuisines, such as Bulgarian, Spanish and Moroccan, with each one having its own distinct type of paprika.3 However, Hungary stands out among all these cuisines — their climate is favorable for growing high-quality paprika, which is why Hungarian paprika is one of the finest quality spices today.4
But is paprika spicy? It depends on the variety of paprika and the type of peppers used to make it. For example, Hungarian paprika is known as the “hot” variety, adding a spicy and peppery flavor to any dish.5 American paprika, on the other hand, can be both sweet and mildly pungent. In the U.S., California and Texas are the largest suppliers of this spice.6
Some people complain on occasion that the paprika they bought is tasteless. The secret to this spice actually lies in the cooking process — you need to heat it to unlock its natural flavor.7 Try cooking it with a little coconut oil or butter over low heat for a minute.8 You can also add it at the end of the cooking process and you’ll get the deep, sweet-spicy and earthy aroma and taste.9
Adding a dash (or two) of paprika to your meals can, surprisingly, offer advantages to your health, including some essential vitamins and minerals, carotenoids and antioxidants10 that can deliver many benefits to your body. Here are some of those benefits:
• It can help maintain eye and skin health — Four carotenoids in paprika, namely lutein, zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene,11 function as antioxidants that may help inhibit DNA damage.12
Lutein and zeaxanthin in particular are essential for preventing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.13 Other nutrients include cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene, which are converted into vitamin A,14 which works in the retina to preserve eyesight15 and is also known for helping improve the appearance of aging skin.16
• Paprika may help promote blood formation and healthy circulation — The copper and iron in paprika are essential for the formation of new blood cells.17 The potassium in this spice can also act as a vasodilator, and may help reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and atherosclerosis.18
• You may improve your sleep with paprika — The vitamin B6 in paprika may promote melatonin production19 and enhance your levels of norepinephrine and serotonin, hormones that are linked to mood and happiness.20
• This spice may even help heal wounds — The vitamin E in paprika can aid in red blood cell production and even in forming clots to promote faster healing of cuts, scrapes and wounds.21
• May help relieve pain — Capsaicin, the active ingredient in peppers that gives them their spiciness, can relax blood vessels22 and relieve pain. It’s even used in topical creams.23
If you want to have paprika on hand, you can opt to grow your own paprika instead of buying the ready-to-use paprika powders in groceries. According to Gardening Know How, paprika’s growing requirements are similar to other pepper varieties. They prefer fertile, well-draining soil and thrive best in a sunny area.
You can grow paprika from seed, directly in soil — this is recommended for warm climates. If you live in a cold place plant them indoors in pots first. Peppers are sensitive to cold weather.
When transferring potted peppers outdoors, make sure to put 12 inches in between each plant, in rows that are 3 feet apart. You can harvest the peppers anytime between summer and fall. When they’ve turned a bright red, that’s a sign that they’re ready for harvesting.
To dry the peppers, place them in a mesh bag and hang them in your attic or a room that reaches around 130 to 150 degrees F. You can also use a commercial dehydrator. Once 85% of the pod’s weight has been lost, the paprika can be ground into a powder.24
Like other ground spices, paprika loses its flavor and potency after some time. The Spruce recommends using paprika within six months to maximize its taste and aroma.
It’s also crucial to store it properly. Place the spice in an airtight container, in a cool or dark place. Instead of a clear glass container, place the spice in a dark tin container that will keep it away from direct light.25
Many people are only familiar with paprika because it’s usually added as a garnish to dishes. Hummus looks fancy and presentable with a dash of red paprika. The same goes for deviled eggs. Paprika adds a red tint to sauces, stews and meats, too.
But don’t limit yourself to these uses. Paprika is a versatile spice that can bring new depths to your favorite meals. Here are some of the uses of paprika around the world:
- Hungary — Perhaps no other country in the world loves paprika more than Hungary. It’s featured in their (unofficial) national dish, goulash. Other dishes that feature paprika include hortobagyi palacsinta, savory pancake with stewed meat and paprikas csirke, or “paprika chicken.”26
- Spain — Rice dishes are enhanced with this seasoning.27
- Thailand — Aside from being added to Pad Thai,28 it can be used to make red curry paste.29
One important tip when cooking with paprika: Avoid burning it. Even accidentally leaving it for a few seconds over heat will make it bitter and unpalatable, so make sure to pay attention when using it. Ideally, paprika should be lightly cooked, fried in a little coconut oil or added at the end of the cooking process so it will release its enticing aroma and flavor.30
Paprika goes well in many marinades and sauces, and it can certainly complement meats and different types of produce. Here are a couple of delicious recipes you can try:
Spicy Cauliflower Rice Recipe
- 4 cups cauliflower “rice” (grated or processed into very small pieces)
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
- 3/4 cup tomato sauce
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add onions and jalapenos, and then sauté until tender, about two to three minutes.
- Add the garlic and cauliflower, sauté until the cauliflower is tender, approximately two minutes.
- Add tomato sauce, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir to evenly coat the vegetables. Cook for three to four minutes, or until tender and heated through.
Tip: Don’t forget that you are in charge of the spiciness level. If you’d like it a little spicier, add more ground cayenne and jalapeno. If you’d like it less spicy, omit the jalapeno and reduce the amount of cayenne you’re adding to the dish.
(Recipe from Rachel Saenz)
Chicken With Paprika Sauce
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 plum tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Salt and pepper
- Cut chicken into strips (according to your preferred size).
- In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with half the paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of pepper.
- Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
- Add chicken, cook, tossing occasionally, until opaque throughout, about four to five minutes. Transfer to plate.
- Heat the remaining coconut oil in the same skillet.
- Add onion, cook until browned and softened. Add remaining tablespoon paprika and stir, cooking, about 30 seconds.
- Add tomatoes and 3/4 cup water, and cook until saucy.
- Return chicken to skillet. Add in sour cream and cook until just heated through, without boiling.
- Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
This recipe makes four servings.
(Adapted from Food.com31)
If you don’t have paprika powder on hand, don’t worry: You can simply substitute with other spices. Cajun spice, made from a blend of cayenne, black and white peppers, is a wonderful paprika substitute, especially since it’s not as spicy as cayenne.32 Ground cayenne pepper and black pepper powder can both work as substitutes for paprika as well, but you have to take note of the quantities.33
If you want to preserve the flavor of paprika and ensure that it’s always on hand, you can simply make paprika oil. Here’s a simple technique from Food.com to make paprika oil:34
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 cups coconut oil
- Place two teaspoons of paprika in a clear bottle or jar and pour in the coconut oil. Seal the container and place in a cool and dark place for a week. Make sure to shake the bottle occasionally.
- Put a double layer of cheesecloth over a funnel and then transfer the oil into another bottle, straining out the powder.
Paprika is one of the most versatile spices out there, so don’t just use it for decoration! Explore its potential by using it in your favorite recipes. You’ll never know, this may become your new favorite spice.
Sources and References
- 1 New World Encyclopedia, Paprika
- 2 The Kitchn, What’s the Difference? Paprika
- 3 Potravinarstvo 12(1), March 2018
- 4 Cooking Light, October 31, 2017
- 5 3 Different Types of Paprika — and It Matters Which You Use
- 6 Science of Cooking, Paprika – Peppers
- 7 Serious Eats, August 10, 2018
- 8 Jamie Oliver, July 16, 2015
- 9 The Herb Gardener, How to Grow Paprika
- 10 USDA National Nutrient Database, Spices, paprika
- 11 Journal of the Korean Society for Applied Biological Chemistry, June 2014, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 355–358
- 12 Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Nov; 90(5): 1402–1410
- 13 Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009 Apr;49(4):313-26
- 14 Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2015;66(6):706-12
- 15 Nutrients. 2012 Dec; 4(12): 2069–2096
- 16 Arch Dermatol. 2007 May;143(5):606-12
- 17 “Significance of Copper and Iron in Blood Restoration,” C. A. Elvehjem, Ph.D
- 18 Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2006 Mar;290(3):R546-52
- 19 Georgian Med News. 2007 Dec;(153):35-8
- 20 PennState Hershey, Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
- 21 MedlinePlus, Vitamin E
- 22 Open Heart. 2015; 2(1): e000262
- 23 Pharmacol Rev. 2012 Oct; 64(4): 939–971
- 24 Gardening Know How, Paprika Pepper Info: Can You Grow Paprika Peppers In The Garden
- 25 The Spruce, February 27, 2017
- 26 Culture Trip, March 2, 2017
- 27, 30 The Spruce Eats, May 5, 2019
- 28 South China Morning Post, Pad Thai
- 29 All Recipes, Thai Red Curry Paste
- 31 Food.com, Chicken With Paprika Sauce
- 32 ILoveIndia.com, Paprika Substitute
- 33 Tastessence, 11 Handy Paprika Substitutes That You May Not Be Aware Of
- 34 Food.com, Paprika oil