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Smoked paprika is a powdered red spice made by grinding Capsicum annuum peppers. The peppers are slowly smoked, sometimes over the course of many days, until they are completely dried. These dried peppers are then ground into a fine powder. This spice's primary flavors include sweet, medium-hot and hot. While often used to provide a rich, smoky flavor in various foods, it also can be used as a garnish.
Paprika's only ingredient, Capsicum annuum, refers to a wide range of peppers. This family includes nearly all peppers, from very mild bell peppers to spicy jalapeno peppers. The most commonly used pepper for making smoked paprika is called the pimiento pepper, although others — such as bell peppers — also can be used.
Smoked paprika is believed to have originated in Spain. While it is produced in several other countries, including America and Hungary, smoked paprika is usually associated with Spain. Smoked Spanish paprika is classified as mild, medium or hot. Each varies in the amount of heat provided, but all contain the same smoked flavor.
Producing smoked paprika begins with picking a large amount of peppers. Although pimiento and Hungarian wax peppers are most popular, any pepper can be used. The peppers are then placed in a smoker. Oak wood is traditionally used to smoke the peppers though, for industrial production, electrical ovens also might be used.
The smoking process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the amount of smoke flavor desired. Optimally, the peppers will dry during the smoking process and become dark and brittle. This does not always happen and the smoked peppers sometimes require more drying in an oven or on racks exposed to the open air.
Once the peppers are smoked and dried, they are ground into a powder. This powder is known as smoked paprika. If kept in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dry place, then it will last anywhere from three months up to a year before it begins to lose flavor. The sooner the paprika is used, the more potent the taste will be.
Smoked paprika is used primarily as a spice in cooking. It is used in recipes to add both flavor and a red color to foods such as rice and soups. It also is added to sausages such as chorizo. This spice also adds a rich color as well as some flavor as a garnish on top of a prepared dish. Cooking smoked paprika briefly in oil will help to create a more robust flavor that can be used in marinades.
I got some smoked paprika, but didn't pay attention to the label -- it was hot paprika. I used it and ate what I cooked, but it was definitely spicy. It was good and the flavor was terrific, but it was really fiery. I use that kind sparingly.
Smoked sweet paprika is great, too. You get the extra flavor without all the heat. You get a smoke flavor, but it's much more subtle than say, liquid smoke, which will get in your face in a hurry. It's easy to use way too much of that stuff.
I like the Hungarian smoked paprika, but it is kind of pricey. You might have to be willing to pay a little more for a better grade of spice if you want really good paprika.
Smoked paprika is a great spice. I use it a lot in chili and beef stew, as well as in Mexican food. I think it adds so much flavor.
When I can, I always try to "bloom" spices in a little oil before cooking with them so their flavors really come out in the food. Smoked paprika is great. It's not too spicy, but has such intense flavor and color. It's fantastic in beef stew, sloppy joes, or even barbecue. It works for nearly anything savory. I also like it on roast chicken. It adds color as well as great flavor.