According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, paprika is ‘a usually mild red condiment consisting of the dried finely ground pods of various sweet peppers’. In the kitchen it’s indispensable for goulash, and valued by cooks all over the world for seasoning and coloring a variety of foods. Hungary is one of the world’s leading paprika producers, and the climate there makes for paprika that has a lovely red color and a rich, palate-pleasing flavor. But even though some of the best paprika comes from Hungary, you can easily make it yourself from homegrown or store-bought peppers regardless of where you live.
In Hungary, more than 40 different varieties of paprika peppers are grown. But while there are certainly special pepper varieties that can be used to make paprika, in reality any red ripe pepper will work. The key is to have really flavorful peppers, and to dry them thoroughly before grinding. The peppers need to be dry in order to prevent spoiling, and to make it possible to grind them to a fine powder.
This year I am growing two pepper varieties specifically for paprika: Alma, and Dulce Rojo. Alma is a small round pepper that starts out white then turns to red, and it has thick juicy walls. Alma is mildly spicy. Dulce Rojo is a long slender thin-walled pepper that turns from green to red as it ripens. It is sweet and has no heat.
If you live in an area with a dry climate, you can hang the peppers up to dry. You do want to keep them out of the sun, which will discolor the peppers, giving them and the paprika a burned appearance. Since the climate where I live is anything but dry, I use the dehydrator, which also has the advantage of being much quicker than air drying. If you have a dehydrator with an adjustable thermostat (like our Excalibur), you want to set it on 135°F, which is the setting for fruits. Using a dehydrator, it takes one or two days to dry the peppers, depending on the thickness of the walls of the peppers. If possible I like to remove the seeds before drying, and cut the peppers into pieces to speed up the drying time.
As I said earlier, any ripe red pepper can be used. You can make it with no heat, a little heat, or fiery hot, depending on your preferences. Or do like I do and make more than one version. After all, commercial paprika is available in several different heat levels. I used a mix of ripe Golden Greek pepperoncini and ripe Fushimi peppers to make one batch. Yes, that means I made paprika with Greek and Japanese peppers! And it turned out great, with a lovely red color and a moderate level of heat. Another batch had a few ripe, spicy Pimiento De Padrons and some sweet red Jimmy Nardellos. It’s so easy to go international when you make it yourself!
After drying you can grind the peppers by hand using a mortar and pestle, or else use a spice grinder, food processor or blender. I use an electric grinder, which is actually a Krups herb and coffee grinder that is now dedicated to grinding herbs and spices. You can grind up a handful of rice to clean it up after making something spicy like paprika or chili powder.
To remove the larger bits and pieces after grinding, I sift the powder through a fine-mesh strainer, and run the bigger stuff through again.
The finished result is homemade paprika, made to your own specifications and tastes. Like all herbs and spices, it should be stored in an airtight container away from heat or light. For longer storage you can also store it in a glass jar in the freezer.
This year I have made three batches of paprika so far, and each has been different and unique. The first was made with the Greek pepperoncini peppers and the Fushimis, and came out a lovely dark red color, and with a good bit of heat. Another batch was made from a mix of Alma, Dulce Rojo, and red ripe bell peppers. That one is lighter in color, and mild and sweet tasting. The third batch was made of a mix of peppers, mild and hot (including the above mentioned Pimiento De Padrons and Jimmy Nardellos), and came out with a medium heat. Of course I love all three of them – because I made them myself!
So whether you grow your own peppers like I do, or buy them at a farmer’s market, ethnic grocery or at your favorite supermarket, you can make your very own paprika with a minimum of effort and a maximum of flavor. It would make a great gift, or you can use it all yourself like I will probably do. Wherever it winds up, it will be a unique and memorable homemade treat. I hope you have enjoyed this article on how to make homemade paprika, and I’ll be back soon with more gardening and cooking adventures from Happy Acres.
For more information on drying, growing and using peppers, check out these related articles: