In American kitchens, sweet paprika is often limited to use as a decorative spice for livening up a bland-looking dish of deviled eggs or potato salad. In fact, sweet paprika has a flavor that is nearly as rich and savory as its culinary history. Cooks who appreciate this spice know that sweet paprika can improve many traditional dishes and deserves a front-row space in the spice cabinet.
Sweet paprika is a brownish-red, powdered spice made from grinding varieties of dried, sweet peppers. In Hungary, the birthplace of paprika, sweet paprika is one of six classes of this spice, according to the website Food Reference. The classes range from the very mild "Kulonleges" to hot and spicy "Eros." Sweet paprika is considered the "standard" of paprikas and is commonly sold in the spice aisle of almost every grocery store.
Food Reference reports that pepper plants first came to Hungary in the 17th century when ethnic groups fleeing the Turks brought peppers among their belongings. The dried and ground vegetable became such an important part of Hungarian cuisine and culture that two Hungarian towns, Kalosca and Szegad, once competed for the right to claim themselves the paprika capital of Hungary. Today, paprika is also prevalent in Spanish cuisine. Peppers for making paprika are grown in Spain and the U.S. as well as Hungary.
Historically, after harvesting, sweet paprika peppers were strung on a "chain" and allowed to dry naturally. The dried peppers were then crushed with a mortar and pestle until they were reduced to a fine powder. As popularity for the spice increased, wind and water mills were utilized to grind sweet paprika. Today, enormous grinding stones, steel cylinders and modern factories produce most of the sweet paprika purchased commercially.
Sweet paprika can be made in the home kitchen by purchasing dried or fresh sweet peppers. Fresh peppers need to be dried, either in a dehydrator or by sun-drying. The dried pods are stored in an airtight container and ground in a coffee grinder or food processor as needed.
Sweet paprika can be used in any savory dish where the mellow flavor of a sweet bell pepper might be welcome. It pairs well with beef, lamb, seafood, veal and chicken and with side dishes such as rice and potatoes. Recipes for goulash, stroganoff, paprikash and homemade sausage often feature sweet paprika. This spice also adds flavor to grilled meats and should be included in any savory rub mixture.