All-important for a good goulash is the quality of the paprika. What we need is Hungarian paprika of the highest quality. No Spanish, no Argentinian, no Indian or Chinese; nothing else will do, for only Hungarian paprika has, because of the variety of peppers, the character of the soil and the production process, the specific qualities that can turn a stew of meat and onions into a goulash. The highest quality paprika is grown in the regions of Szeged en Kalocsa, protected production areas by Hungarian law.
Paprika is dried and ground pepper, Capsicum annuum, whereby the differences in taste, colour and spiciness are reached by the use of different cultivars and the amount of seeds that are mixed with the ground pulp. The pepper that is mostly cultivated in Hungary for the production of paprika is the Magyar fűszerpaprika or pirospaprika (Capsicum annuum var. longum); “Hungarian spice-pepper” or “red pepper”. It is a red, oblong pepper with a fruity taste, varying in spiciness from mild to hot. Another much grown variety is the pritamin- or paradicsompaprika (Capsicum annuum var. lycopersiciforme), a more or less round, tomato-shaped pepper with a sweet taste and without sharpness, with a high amount of carotene and -therefore- a high colouring power. Other varieties are the hatvani erős and the boldog, both oblong red peppers from which a high-quality and very aromatic powder is made with a deep red colour.
In the past, Hungarian paprika was classified in 8 types, from mild to hot. These were:
- Különleges (= special) (German: Extra), de mildest, sweet, without sharpness, with a bright red colour and a fine aroma.
- Csípősmentes csemege (csípős = scharp; mentes = without; csemege = mild) (G.: Delikatess), as mild as különleges, with a full flavour and a colour from light to dark red.
- Csemegepaprika, the same csípősmentes csemege, but slightly sharper to taste.
- Csípős csemege pikáns, even more sharp.
- Édesnemes (édes = sweet; nemes = noble) (G.: Edelsüß), the most exported sort, with a high colouring power and a fruity, mild taste.
- Rózsa (G.: Rosenscharf), dark-red to red-brown, a strong aroma and fairly sharp, but very poor colouring power.
- Félédes (fél = partly; édes = sweet), a moderately hot mixture of mild and sharp peppers.
- Erős (= hot), the hottest one, with a brown colour.
In the German language area, the terms Extra, Delikatess, Edelsüß and Rosenscharf are still in use, but for the rest you can forget this list, because this classification is, as said, no longer in use. Since 2007, according to the “Codex Alimentarius Hungaricus”, the Hungarian food code, the packaging of the powder must contain the following information:
- Firstly an indication that informs the consumer that it contains ground pepper, like fűszerpaprika-őrlemény or őrölt fűszerpaprika. Simply őrölt paprika (ground pepper) is also permitted.
- Then comes the classification, from class I to IV: különleges, csemege, édesnemes and rózsa. The names remain of the old classification, but are no longer an indication of the sharpness. Basic assumption is that all the powder is mild. The classification is done on basis of colour, which is determined by the amount of carotene in the paprika. The amount of carotene is measured by a standard testing method of ASTA, the “American Spice Trade Association”, and usually ranges from 60 (bright orange) to 180 ASTA (dark red), though higher values are possible. The higher the colouring power, the more costly the paprika. The values in ASTA don’t have to be listed on the packaging. For the Hungarian paprika the values must be at least 65 ASTA for rózsa; 100 for édesnemes; 110 for csemege and 130 ASTA for különleges.
- Thirdly, the sharpness of the paprika must be indicated. That sharpness is caused by the capsaicin, an alkaloid that stimulates the nerves on the tongue that are sensible to heat and pain, which causes the hot, burning sensation. The denomitors are: csípősségmentes (without sharpness) when the amount of capsaicin is no more than 30 mg. per kg. paprika; enyhén csípős (mild or slightly spicy) when the amount of capsaicin is between 30 and 200 mg. per kg., and csípős (hot) for powder with an amount of capsaicin above 200 mg. per kg.
- Finally the packaging must specify the land of origin, because even a package of paprika bought in Hungary can have an indication like Spanyolország or Brazília, which means that the stuff comes from Spain or Brazil. When it says származási hely or term hely (termőhely): Magyarország (land of production: Hungary), you can be certain that the paprika is Hungarian. Is it a mixture of different provenance, you will read something like: spanyol és magyar termés paprika keveréke (paprika mixture of Spanish and Hungarian provenance). If the paprika is produced in Szeged or Kalocsa, it will be proudly proclaimed in bold print.
A package of paprika saying that it contains ground Capsicum annuum var. longum (“fűszerpaprika-őrlemény”) of at least 110 ASTA (“csemege”), mild/sweet (“édes”), and produced in Hungary (“termőhely: Magyarország”). The “1. osztályú” (“class 1”) is bollocks to fool the customers.
When the packaging says füstös izű, you have bought smoked paprika. The peppers are not dried in the sun or in ovens, but in the smoke of a soft smouldering fire of oak, which gives the powder a rich smoky taste. Very nice in, say, a Spanish dish, but in a goulash completely out of place.
Most recipes for goulash ask for two kinds of paprika: a mild, sweet one for a rich flavour and a deep, red colour, of which spoonfuls are used. The second is a hot one for spiciness, which is used with moderation. Sometimes hot peppers are added for the spiciness. In Hungary this would usually be the cseresznyepaprika or cherry pepper (Capsicum annuum var. cerasiforme). It is a small cherry-shaped red pepper with a sharpness similar to that of a jalapeñopepper. When dried, these peppers have a very frail, thin pulp.
The next important thing to know is that you must never fry the paprika. Because of the high amount of sugar (10 to 15% or more), paprika will burn almost immediately and leaves your goulash with an unpleasant bitter taste that can’t be removed from it. Adding paprika to fried meat or onions is always done off the heat. Take the pan from the fire, stir in the paprika and quench it immediately with liquid. This way, the sugars have just enough time and heat to caramelize, freeing the rich aroma, without the risk of burning.
Exposed to light and kept at room temperature, the carotene in the powder is quickly broken down and loses colouring power, taste and nutricional qualities. So, never buy paprika in a translucent packaging and store it in a cool, dry and dark place, then it can be kept for about a year.
In Hungary, paprika is not only sold as a powder, but also as a paste. Piros arany (“red gold”) is the best known. It is a bright red paste with a fresh, fruity taste. It consist for 87% of fűszer- and pritaminpaprika. Other components are salt, xanthan gum (a food thickening agent), citric acid and the preservative potassium sorbate (E202). It comes in two tastes: mild (csemege) and hot (csípős). A drawback of paprika is that it doesn’t dissolve in cold fluids, but remains granular. For the use in dressings or other cold sauces, piros arany is a fine solution, literally and figuratively. Also very useful to spice up your goulash (or other dishes) at the last moment, if you have been too frugal with the paprika.
Other well-known products are Erős Pista (“Hot Stephen”), a hot paprika paste, and Édes Anna (“Sweet Anna”), the mild variety. These are made with the same ingredients as piros arany, with the difference that the seeds are not ground, but kept whole. That way you can see at the amount of seeds in the paste how hot the stuff is. The more seeds, the spicier. Not only used in the kitchen, but also on the table, like a salsa.
Yet another product is gulyáskrém: goulash-paste. This also comes in the varieties mild (csemege) and hot (csípős). It is a paprika paste to which tomato, onion, caraway and other spices are added. The compelte spicery for your goulash, so to speak. The downside of it is that it contains pretty much salt and that after a while, with always the same ingredients in the same proportions, you’ll get bored with it.
© 2016, M.S.F. Wick