Pimenton is a type of smoked paprika made exclusively in the La Vera region of Spain. It is sometimes referred to as pimenton de la vera. The vibrantly coloured red spice carries a rich, spicy aroma and flavour that is distinct to other smoked paprikas. Pimenton is almost ubiquitous in all forms of Spanish cooking. It is used to flavour almost any dish that falls under the realm of Spanish cuisine, including chorizo, paella, Galician octopus, patatas bravas, and other Spanish classics.
The difference between pimenton and paprika
The difference between pimenton and paprika lies in the growth, harvest, and processing of the spice. Pimenton hails from the river valley of La Vera in the Spanish region of Extremadura. The climate of La Vera has the ideal conditions for growing the peppers used to make paprika, with the perfect blend of mild temperatures and rainfall. Add to these ideal conditions the centuries old methods of preparations, and you will see why pimenton is unique enough to have its own name.
For more than four centuries, pimenton has been produced with the same unchanged processes handed down from generation to generation. The techniques used to harvest, dry, and process the peppers into the ground spice mix lend it a particularly unique flavour. This makes the taste and quality vastly superior to ordinary paprika found in stores. The main distinction between pimenton and paprika is the methods of drying. Because of the heavy rainfall during harvest season, pimenton cannot be dried in the outdoors. It is instead smoked over wood fire, lending it the intense smoky flavour that it is known for.
The typical process is as such: after the peppers have grown in an ideal environment, they are picked and left to momentarily dry on racks. Once dried, they are stretched over a wood fire made by burning local oak or holm. The peppers are smoked on oak or holm wood for 15 days. This lets them slowly and gently releases their juices and dehydrate while retaining a particular bright red colour and distinct smoky aroma. After the liquid has been drained from the peppers, they are then stone ground into the resulting pimenton. The flavour is characteristically smoky with a variable spice factor.
How spicy is pimenton?
Pimenton is available in three different spice varieties: sweet, spicy, and bittersweet. The bittersweet variety is less commonly used than the first two. The spicy variety lends a good kick to meals but is not particularly spicy compared to other peppers and chillies. When looking at the Scoville scale of heat for peppers, pimenton comes in at around 500SHU. Jalapeños are graded at around 5000 SHU, meaning pimenton is around 10 times less spicy than jalapeno peppers.
How to use pimenton in cooking
The sweet variety of pimenton is not ‘sweet’ in the same sense of sugar. Rather, it is simply not spicy nor bitter. You can use the sweet pimenton to flavour light meats like seafood, chicken, or rabbit meat. In a non-traditional sense, you can use sweet pimenton to flavour hommus or roasted vegetables. The spicier version of pimenton is used sparingly in winter soups and stews, adding a punch to the resulting flavour. It is also used in the production of chorizo.
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