When it comes to cooking, paprika is one of the most versatile spices in the rack, and also the one that more questions bring to our minds.
Hungary and Spain are the two heartlands of paprika. Paprika or pimentón are two different words for the same spice: grounded dried pepper. Paprika is how they call it in Hungarian, while pimentón is the Spanish word (it comes from “pimiento”, meaning “pepper”). There are many varieties of paprika, and while Hungarian Paprika comes in six different varieties, Spanish Pimenton only comes in three: sweet, spicy and bittersweet, being the bittersweet variety the most unusual.
How spicy is spicy pimenton?
One of the most frequent questions when it comes to pimenton is how spicy is spicy pimenton. And it comes along with another question that usually remains unquestioned: how sweet is sweet pimenton?
Sweet pimenton is not actually ´sweet´. When it comes to Spanish spices the word ´sweet´ usually only means ´plain´. In other words, sweet pimenton is ´not-spicy´ pimenton.
It is always difficult to try to measure a taste, but luckily there is a measuring scale to compare pepper´s spiciness. It is called the Scoville scale. The Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers, or other spicy foods, as reported in (SHU), a function of capsaicin concentration. Capsaicin is one of many related pungent compounds found in chili peppers, collectively called capsaicinoids. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville whose 1912 method is known as the Scoville organoleptic test.1
In the Scoville organoleptic test, an exact weight of dried pepper is dissolved in alcohol to extract the heat components (capsaicinoids), then diluted in a solution of sugar water. Decreasing concentrations of the extracted capsaicinoids are given to a panel of five trained tasters until a majority (at least three) can no longer detect the heat in a dilution. The heat level is based on this dilution, rated in multiples of 100 Scoville heat units (SHU).2
Although I did not find any scale containing the SHU value of pimenton, I found that Spanish pimiento is about 500 SHU. Now let´s think in jalapeños, that are 5.000 SHU. This means that spicy pimenton would be 10 times less spicy than jalapeños. So not very spicy at all.3
How Spanish paprika made?
While Hungarian paprika is usually dried in the sun, Spanish versions take things up a notch, smoking them dry (often over oak, as is typical in the La Vera region, where much of the country’s supply is produced). If you want to know more about this, check the following video which you will find really authentic (it comes with subtitles in English).
How to use smoked pimenton?
Pimenton flavour has an incredible intensity that forms the building blocks of much of Spain’s cuisine, from wonderfully fragrant paella to a heady flavouring for chorizo and salami. Don’t be afraid to be generous when adding pimenton to your recipes, you can add 1 or 2 teaspoons and it will be still fine.
In Jamie Oliver´s Magazines there are some great ideas about how to use pimenton. You can try spiking a soft cheese with a layer of smoked paprika and heating until gooey, as in the baked paprika cheese recipe4 Other ideas are to combine it with honey in a killer barbecue marinade to bring out paprika’s natural sweetness, or use with beans and pulses, as these will soak up the amazing flavour. The peppers from which paprika is made are part of the nightshade family, as are potatoes and tomatoes, so dishes that combine the three – think patatas bravas – will all work well. Or, go simple: a sprinkling on scrambled eggs or in an omelette will give these basic dishes an extra dimension.5
As a last idea, I would recommend you to add smoked pimenton to your spices rack if you are a chorizo lover, but you don´t love chorizo´s fat so much. There is a rising tendency in the UK to add chorizo to almost any dishes, but in Spanish cuisine chorizo has its own place and moment because its strong flavour can cover any other flavours in your dish, eliminating the complexity on the taste instead of enhancing it. Chorizo is also high in fat and very caloric. In my opinion, most times you will have a better result seasoning your preparation with smoked paprika (sweet or spicy) rather than adding some chunks of chorizo, and you will also have a healthier meal.
Ready to fill your culinary creations with Spanish taste? You can find Spanish smoked paprika along with a wide range of other Spanish spices in our online store! What is that dish that dramatically changes when you add