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Spanish Paprika - Pimentón

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Pimentón
adagnani/Wikimedia Commons

Paprika or pimentón is one of the essential ingredients in Spanish cooking. It is used in everything from chorizo sausage and lomo to chilindron sauces and sprinkled on top of octopus and even fried eggs! There are several kinds of paprika – sweet, spicy, smoked or a combination of the above.

Where does Spanish Paprika or Pimentón Come From?

Paprika is made from ground, dried red chile peppers, originally from the Americas. So important is paprika to Spanish cooking and so demanding are the Spanish of quality paprikas that there are Denominations of Origin (D.O.) for paprika. One of the D.O. is located in Murcia, a province on the Southeastern coast of Spain, between Almeria and Alicante. The other and more famous is La Vera, which is located in Cáceres, Extremadura, southwest of Madrid. Both of these areas are warm and dry in the summer, which make them perfect for growing peppers.

It is said that Christopher Columbus brought paprika back to Spain during his second voyage and served it to Ferdinand and Isabella in Extremadura and even though it was a bit hot and spicy for the king and queen, the monks of the monastery in Guadalupe passed it along to other brothers and it was spread from Extremadura all over Spain.

What are the Types of Spanish Paprika?

There are several different types of Spanish paprika, made from different kinds of peppers.

  • Pimentón Dulce or Sweet Paprika - Round red peppers make this mild, light orange paprika.

  • Pimentón Agridulce or Medium Hot Paprika - Longer, dark red pepper make a medium hot paprika.

  • Pimentón Picante or Hot Paprika – Made from any of several different types of long red peppers.

How is Spanish Paprika or Pimentón Made?

In La Vera, pepper seeds are planted in March and harvested from September to November. When ripe, families join together with others in the towns to manually harvest the small red peppers. First, the peppers are set out to dry in little drying houses. Pimentón de la Vera has a distinctly smoky flavor that comes from the process of smoke-drying the peppers with huge amounts of oak wood in the drying houses. Peppers are placed on racks above the fire and farmers turn the peppers by hand once a day. This drying process takes about two weeks.

Next, the dried peppers are taken to small paprika mills, where the stalks and part of the cores are removed. Then, the peppers are ground in electric mills that have stone wheels. Heat from friction can be detrimental to the flavor and color of the paprika, so it is very important that the grinding process be done slowly. Once ground, the paprika is packed in cans and sold. Spanish Paprika will keep in your cupboard for about 2 years.

In Murcia, the traditional method for drying the peppers is to lay them out in the sun. However, larger companies are now beginning to build rooms to hot air dry them. Some companies even sterilize the powder using steam, so that the paprika keeps longer.

Recipes Using Spanish Paprika or Pimentón

As we said before, Spanish paprika is used in many dishes in Spanish cuisine. Below is a little list with links to recipes that use paprika.

Tapas Soups & Salads Main Courses

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