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The best versions of this renowned Hungarian spice pack a punch that goes beyond pigment.
Published Nov. 1, 2008. Appears in Cook's Illustrated November/December 2008, America's Test Kitchen TV Season 3: Barbecued Salmon
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What You Need To Know
Some cooks think of paprika as merely a coloring agent for soups and stews or a garnish for deviled eggs. But the best versions of this renowned Hungarian spice pack a punch that goes beyond pigment. Sweet paprika is derived from dried sweet red-pepper pods, a different variety than the peppers that are used for either hot or smoky paprika. We sampled six brands—two from the supermarket and the others ordered online—processing them into a wet paste for our Hungarian Beef Stew and dusting them liberally on deviled eggs. Two specialty paprikas trounced the competition with their full-bodied flavors. Our hands-down favorite boasted a “fruity,” “earthy” balance that one taster likened to the complexity of a dried Mexican chile. The rest of the lineup paled in comparison—and one good whiff of each explained why. In contrast to the rich, slightly toasty aromas of the two top-rated paprikas, the samples from lower rated brands had virtually no scent at all. Not surprisingly, these second-rate spices also tasted “dull” and “one-dimensional.” Our rule of thumb is to replace ground spices after a year. But for best results, always smell spices before you use them; if the scent is faint, it’s time to open a new jar.
Everything We Tested
This specialty brand outshone the competition with the complexity of its “earthy,” “fruity” flavors and “toasty” aroma, making the slight inconvenience of mail-ordering it well worthwhile.
Almost as bright and bold as The Spice House paprika, but with noticeably more “heat” (despite being a sweet variety) and a slightly more “vegetal bite.” Note: This same product was previously named "Hungary Sweet."
Recommended with reservations
“This one doesn’t ‘wow’ me,” one taster noted, though its “hint of smokiness” was welcomed by those who didn’t think it bordered on “burnt ashes.”
Some tasters found this supermarket staple perfectly respectable, but most considered it “one-dimensional,” even “flavorless.”
Though its scent reminded tasters of “toasted coffee grounds,” several people noted that this supermarket paprika’s “jammy,” “really sweet” flavors generally “lacked depth.”
Disappointingly, this iconic Hungarian tin was filled with a “chalky,” “bitter,” “dusty” grind that most tasters found off-putting.
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