Goulash – a tasty history (13)

The word, paprika, is adopted from German, where Friedrich Kluge in his “Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache” (Etymological dictionary of the German language) from 1883 informs us that it is borrowed from the Hungarian language in the course of the 19th century, which in turn, got it from Serbian, where it is a diminutive of the word for pepper, pàpar, which comes from the Greek word πέπερι, péperi, which -as we have seen- is derived from the Sanskrit pipali. In English, unlike in German or Hungarian, the word is used for the powder only, not for the pods, which are called peppers.

Goulash - a tasty history (13)
Capsicum annuum, to use the scientific name, is a plant that can thrive in many climates and occurs in many variations: bell-shaped, pointed, large, small, red, yellow, orange, white, purple, and runs in taste ranges from the mildest bell peppers without any sharpness to the hottest chillies. That spiciness owes the fruit of the capsaicin. Capsaicin is an alkaloid that stimulates the nerves on the tongue that are sensitive to heat and pain, which results in the burning, hot sensation. That spiciness is usually classified according to the Scoville scale, devised by the American Wilbur Scoville in 1912. The test goes like this: a certain weight of dried paprika is dissolved in alcohol to extract the capsaicin and then dissolved in sugar water. That is given to a panel of five tasters, with an increasing concentration of the extracted capsaicin, until the majority can taste the sharpness in a solution. The sharpness degree is based on the solution, given in multiples of 100 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). The ordinary bell pepper scores 0 on this list. The jalapeño has a Scoville value between 2500 and 8000 and the Serrano is doing 10,000 – 23,000. In comparison, the “Madame Jeanette”, for instance, scores between 100,000 and 350,000, and the hottest pepper in the world, the “Caroline Reaper”, has a maximum value of up to 2,200,000 SHU.

But paprika is not just a spicy condiment. It is also incredibly healthy, as the Hungarian physician, biochemist and Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Györgyi discovered.

© 2016, Marcel Wick

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