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Paprika

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Paprika, Other Names - Past and Present

Chinese: lajiao
Japanese: papurika (transliteration of English 'paprika')
Korean: papuelika (onomatopoeia and transliteration of English 'paprika')
Hindi: paprike (said to be from the name of the religious figure Rysh Paprike, of dubious reliability)
Spanish: pimenton / paprika (adopted from original Austro-Hungarian)
Italian: paprika (adopted from original Austro-Hungarian)
Hebrew: paprika (adopted from original Austro-Hungarian)
Hungarian (etymological origin): paprika
Romanian: paparka
Slavonic: peperke / piperke
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Capsicum annuum / Capsicum frutescens

Background and History

Paprika is a very commonplace spice, commonly associated with traditional Eastern European, Turkic, Spanish, and Portuguese cuisine. The paprika is often assumed to be a type of chili pepper, but it is actually a combination of one or more types of chili peppers, the most common being ones that are derived from the Capsicum annuum variety of chili peppers. In most circumstances, paprika is chiefly derived from milder varieties of Capsicum annuum, although some forms of paprika are comprised of a combination of dried and powdered Capsicum annuum and other variants of of the Capsicum species.



Nowadays, the primary source for paprika is the Capsicum annuum variant of chili peppers, a plant which is characterised by its somewhat milder range of spiciness compared to other types of chili pepper. The Capsicum annuum bush is actually a perennial plant in spite of the fact that it is termed annuum (i. e. an annual), and is notable for its off-white, ivory-hued, or pale lavenderhued flowers as well as its fruits, a partially elongated (or slightly spherical) berries with colours that range from being deep red, maroon, pale pink, jade-green, yellow and even purple and black. The plant goes to a minimum of twenty-four inches to a maximum of three feet to four feet in length upon maturity, and is notable for its very hardy nature and its preference for dry, warm, or tropical climates (although it can survive well in colder temperatures, taking on more annual-like characteristics under such climates). [1]

The Capsicum annuum berries are typically dried and powdered for the creation of paprika, although some fresh or dried un-ground or un-powdered specimens can be bought and ground by hand, or otherwise employed whole. This however is only considered common in areas where Capsicum annuum is chiefly cultivated, such as in some parts of Hungary or Spain, and the most common form of Capsicum annuum to be frequently had is in the powdered form of paprika. During the production process, milder variants of paprika (especially if it were sourced from strongly flavoured species) usually comprise only of the skin, with the seeds and the inner piths being removed, and the whole being washed and dried prior to pulverisation. This is to remove as much of the pungent parts that contain capsaicin and thereby reduce the spiciness. More pungent or potent blends may incorporate the whole of the chili pepper, or a controlled amount of seeds, stalks, and calyxes (generally those parts that house the volatile oils that make it spicy). Alternatively, spicier strains of Capsicum annuum may be employed in lieu of mixing different types of chili peppers to create paprika powder, following the two various methods of preparation to achieve similar ends. [2]

Paprika itself has a long standing history of use that possibly dates back to the early middle of the 1500s. It began as a choice spice that was frequently employed by the Saracens (Turks), and later introduced to the Levant, Spain, Greece, and the rest of the territories which they have either encroached or ruled to some extent during the height of the Ottoman conquests. Due to the spread of its usage throughout most of the European continent and the Iberian Peninsula, the popularity and use of paprika was eventually propagated via trade beyond the Western borders, until it too was eventually introduced to Asia and Africa where, like in the majority of Europe (perhaps with the exception of a large part of France) it too became an integral part of their culinary flavour palette. [3] While most modern variants of paprika generally veer towards being more mellow or mild (a fact which has caused paprika to be considered the 'mildest of all chili peppers', in spite of the fact that paprika doesn't even count as a singular chili pepper variety in the strictest sense of the word), the original 'blends' of paprika were quite pungent and spicy - a feature which is still commonplace in areas such as China, Africa (and, subsequently, the African diasporas), Turkey, and Spain. [4]

The 'mild' variants of paprika are a relatively modern innovation brought about sometime during the early 1950s, when sweeter variants of the Capsicum annuum plant were culled and grafted onto other, less milder varieties and effectively cultivated to produce the milder strains known today. The flavour of paprika still largely varies depending upon the specific blend and the country where the chili peppers are sourced, although as a general 'rule' hotter (in this case, moderately spicy with a hint of sweetness) varieties are found in the Levant, Africa, China, and Turkey, while the milder varieties and blends are more preferred in Europe, with the exception of Central Europe, which prefers both hot and mild varieties and will keep a readily accessible stock of both variants, as paprika is a strongly integral part of their cuisine, despite the fact that its incorporation into their cooking did not come about until well into the 18th and 19th centuries (in spite of having been under Ottoman rule several times since the mid-1500s to late 1600s).

The most popular type of paprika known today is Spanish paprika (also referred to as pimenton), which comes is generally sorted depending upon its spiciness, and that comes in three distinct standard types and one artisanal variety: Pimenton dulce (mild), Pimenton agridulce (moderately spicy), the Pimenton picante (very spicy), and the artisanal Pimenton de la Vera (possessing a slightly smokey flavour and aroma). In spite of these four 'grades' of Spanish paprika, it is commonly associated in the general consciousness of the public that Spanish paprika is a milder variant of the cayenne pepper, and is assumed (by default) as being sweet, this due to the fact that Pimenton dulce varieties are often the most sought after, and, subsequently, the most commonly available in retail stores.

Second to Spanish paprika is the more robust, full-bodied, and generally spicier strains derived from Hungary, which is the prime grower, exporter, and producer of Capsicum annuum-based paprika powder. It is generally available in eight grades: Kulonleges (dubbed 'Special Quality', is it the mildest), csiposmentes csemege (dubbed 'Delicate', it is mild, but with a richness in its delicacy), Csemegepaprika (dubbed 'Exquisite Delicate', it is slightly more pungent than the cispomentes csemege), Csipos Csemege / Pikans (dubbed 'Pungent Exquisite Delicate', it is more potent than either of the previous grades), Rozsa (dubbed 'Rose', it is valued chiefly for its colour, aroma, and sweet-spicy pungency), Edesnemes (dubbed 'Noble Sweet', it is the most popular and commonly exported grade of Hungarian paprika, and is noted for its mellow pungency), Feledes (dubbed 'Half-Sweet', it isn't a grade at all, but a blend of both mild (Rozsa) and pungent (Csipos Csemege) grades of Capsicum; and lastly, there is Eros (dubbed 'Strong', which is noted for its dark-brown to maroon colour and its very spicy nature). [5]

Common / Popular Uses

The most common use of paprika is as a culinary spice, generally favoured by Central and Eastern European cultures, as well as Turkish, Spanish, and some branches of the African (including the African diasporas) Chinese, and Judaic cultures (including the Jewish diasporas). It a favoured spice for a number of dishes, generally beef-based, although in its versatility, it can be employed to flavour seafood, poultry, game, and even vegetables. In some cultures that have an affinity for spicy or moderately spicy foods, paprika is employed as a garnish and even as a condiment. Spanish, Turkish, and Italian cuisine even employ paprika to flavour rice-based and pasta-based dishes, as well as a selected number of endemic desserts. [6]

Cooking with paprika can be a very finicky thing, as, like tea, there are certain flavour profiles that are only possible or imitable with the use of a distinct variety, blend, or grade of paprika. Masterful cooking, especially of the artisanal type, will therefore indicate the exact type of paprika required for a specific recipe (i. e. Spanish, Hungarian, African, etc.), although for more commonplace cooking, any paprika will do. Because it belongs to the chili family, it has even been employed by most amateurish cooks as a 'milder' substitute for cayenne pepper and other, extremely hotter, varieties in spite of the fact that it changes the whole flavour profile of the dish wherein it was employed as such.

The true medicinal benefits of paprika were not found in dermal or topical applications but rather in the oral ingestion of the spice, which not only helped to invigorate and energise the body, but also prevented the progression of certain kinds of diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, certain types of cancer (i. e. stomach and lung cancer), as well as scurvy. [8] Modern studies have pointed out that paprika contains extremely high and potent amounts of Vitamin C by weight, compared that found in limes, lemons, oranges, and tomatoes. Its bright-red colouration is also a strong indicator of its being a good source of Vitamin A, K, and lycopene, in significantly higher amounts than are found in tomatoes or guavas. When combined with food or otherwise taken as a supplement prior to, during, or after meals, it is said to not only help reduce the chances of indigestion, but also remedy diarrhea and dyspepsia, as well as enhance the body's capacity to absorb and assimilate nutrients derived from food via its ability to improve overall digestion.

The capcaisin found in the Capsicum annuum peppers also function as an excellent analgesic, aside from its capacity to help improve the overall circulation of the body, tonifying the upper respiratory tract, the cardiovascular system, and the immune system as a whole in the process. Due to its analgesic and stimulant properties, it can be allowed to macerate in oil and the resulting salve employed topically to help relieve the pain of arthritis, rheumatism, or gout, or to otherwise improve overall blood circulation and act as a general rubifacient. [9] The macerated oil may even be employed to disinfect minor cuts, bruises, or wounds, as well as to hasten healing. It may even be employed as a topical remedy for hair loss, dandruff, and extreme shedding of hair elicited by stress or poor circulation.

When employed cosmetically, it can help to improve the overall texture of skin and enhance its innate vibrance. In some Indian and Middle Eastern cultures, paprika powder is even mixed with powdered henna (Lawsonia inermis to improve the reddish hue of the henna, as well as to increase blood circulation to the scalp, subsequently improving the absorption of henna's nourishing benefits, as well as increasing the rate of hair-growth. [10]

Esoteric / Magickal Uses

In spite of its long standing culinary and medicinal uses, paprika's esoteric usage is somewhat limited. It can be added to potions and incense to increase the power of a spell-weaving, or otherwise employed as an empowering talismanic herb. When encased in a medicine pouch or juju bag, it increases the power of a magickal practitioner, calling on masculine energy to bolster their inherent abilities. Taken and scattered around a person's property, it can invite discord, cause misfortune, and attract bad luck. When employed in the creation of protective sachets, it can help to bolster creative energy and enhance the innate inventiveness of an individual. [11]

While paprika is considered generally safe for moderate to above-moderate consumption, like its relative the cayenne pepper, it must not be given to individuals who suffer from any complaints of the bowels (i. e. ulcers, gastroencephalitis, hyperacidity, etc.) lest it aggravate the condition. Taking paprika solely as a food supplement should likewise not be done if one is under anti-depressant, anti-convulsant, and phenobarbital and analgesic medications. If one is also supplementing on herbal remedies such as hops, valerian, St John's Wort, catnip or kava-kava (also known to be natural antidepressants), the consumption of paprika should likewise be reduced to a bare minimum or otherwise discontinued lest interactions and unwanted side-effects occur. Excessive consumption of paprika may also result in stupor, drowsiness, and a general feeling of tiredness. It is advised that one request the guidance of an expert herbalist or a trusted medical practitioner when supplementing with paprika for therapeutic purposes.

References:

[1 - 2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsicum_annuum

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paprika

[4] [5] http://www.naturalstandard.com/news/news201102054.asp

[6] http://medic-herbal.blogspot.com/2013/01/benefits-of-paprika.html

[7] http://www.akins.com/ns/DisplayMonograph.asp?storeID=A59A6B1C10E44C9E9420A7A75B27460A&DocID=paprika

[8] http://voices.yahoo.com/is-paprika-healing-spice-5435821.html?cat=5

[9] http://theherbalfarm.blogspot.com/2008/01/paprika.html

[10] http://forums.longhaircommunity.com/archive/index.php/t-61758.html

[11] http://christowitch.tumblr.com/herbs

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2013

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