It is my pleasure to present a series of posts about one of my favorite spices — paprika. The first part will be about the spice and its origins. The second part will be about my husband’s mother, who lives in Israel, and has a paprika farm. The third and the last will be about my mother, who is from Morocco, and how she used to make her own paprika oil and how you can, too.
Paprika refers to the Capsicum fruit which is a bell pepper. When it is dried and ground into a powder it is then used as a seasoning in many cuisines from around the world to add color and flavor to the dishes. The major producers of paprika are Spain and other Mediterranean regions, South America, India, Hungary and California. But Israel has emerged to join this well-established group as a serious paprika grower. I asked one of the farmers that we do business with to tell us about the process of cultivating paprika, the varieties that are produced and about the differences in various paprika peppers.
1. What is the difference between sweet and hot paprika?
The sweet and hot paprika peppers are two different varieties (species). The flavors also vary from country to country. Some producers add hot chili into the sweet paprika and that is not an honest way to sell hot paprika. Depending on the species and how it is processed, the color can range from bright red to brown and the flavor from mild to spicy. So, it is helpful to know the distinct qualities that each type of paprika can bring to a dish.
2. How is the Israeli paprika different from other paprika produced around the world?
First of all, we control the entire production process from planting the seeds to producing the end product. We cultivate paprika using only natural farming methods without any GMO seeds resulting in a paprika known for its pure sweet flavor.
3. Are all the paprika varieties the same all over the world?
The paprika pepper is not same all over the world. The main difference is in the species, as well as in the farming and agriculture techniques used on a specific farm. Of course, the final result depends on the weather of the region and the soil conditions. A good example of that are apples: There are green and red apples and within that, there are different varieties of green apples and many other varieties of red apples. Each apple has a different quality depending on its origins (the state of Washington is known for its “Delicious” apples).
4. What affects the flavor of the paprika?
What affects the flavor the most is the species and the oil content in the paprika pepper. The higher the oil content, the better the quality.
5. Production and Quality Control
The responsibility and commitment to achieve a superior product must be seen from start to finish. The care of the peppers after the harvest has a strong effect on the quality of the paprika. In Israel, immediately after the pepper is harvested it is sent to dry, in order to get all the moisture out, and from there it goes into the industrial grinder for grinding into a fine powder. As an alternative, after harvest some growers send their peppers to an open field to dry under the sun (this process changes the color to a yellowish hue) which diminishes the aroma and flavor. Afterward, their peppers are in transit for many miles until it reaches the storage place. If the condition of the storage is very poor then the final result will be a low-grade quality paprika pepper. On our farm in Israel, we are always involved 100% throughout the life cycle of the product from planting, growing, harvesting, production, storage, transportation and quality customer care. The end result is an excellent product that meets all U.S. and International requirements.
6. Very often there is a number showing after the paprika name – for example : Spanish Paprika 120 Asta – we get asked what does the number and ASTA stand for?
The ASTA (American Spice Trade Association) test in paprika is a test that checks the strength of color in the paprika, by extracting the pigment molecules from the powder to acetone and then checking the level of color in the extracted solution by spectrophotometer. The ASTA test and scale was developed by the American Spice Trade Association.
The higher the Asta level is, the stronger/deeper red the color will be. The higher Asta available on the market today is 160 and it is very expensive