The Health Benefits of Paprika

paprika
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Paprika is a bright, red, ground spice made from peppers that are members of the Capsicum annuum family. These may include sweet, mild, red bell peppers, hot chili peppers, cayenne peppers, poblano peppers, or Aleppo peppers. Because different types of peppers can be used to make this spice, it's heat level can vary. But most people describe paprika as having a smoky, slightly sweet flavor. Because of its distinctive color, paprika is also often used as a garnish on foods like deviled eggs or potato salad.

Paprika is also believed to provide certain health benefits, but those benefits can vary as well depending on the pepper used to make the spice. Paprika can provide vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin B6 but you're not likely to consume enough of it (especially if used as a garnish) for the amounts to make a substantial difference in your diet.

Health Benefits

Paprika is believed to impart a wide variety of health benefits, ranging from the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis to anemia prevention and even fuller, softer, healthier hair. Not all of these purported benefits are supported by strong scientific evidence.

Some of the health benefits attributed to paprika are associated with the spice's capsaicin content. Capsaicin is a chemical found in many hot peppers and it gives the peppers their heat. Paprika that is made from spicier peppers, such as cayenne pepper or poblano peppers, will also contain capsaicin.

But not all peppers have capsaicin. Paprika made from red bell peppers, for example, will not provide capsaicin because the peppers do not contain the chemical.

Capsaicin is being studied for its potential effects on health. Several in vitro and animal studies have suggested that capsaicin supplementation may play a role in the treatment of obesity.

Other in vitro and rodent studies have suggested that it may have a protective antioxidant effect on the liver in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and may be helpful in the treatment of hyperglycemia, atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiac hypertrophy, hypertension, and stroke risk. But researchers also state that further research is needed to fully understand the benefits that the chemical can provide. Furthermore, the studies primarily investigate the role of capsaicin supplements, not the use of paprika as a spice.

There are limited studies that have investigated the potential health benefits of paprika extracts. But again, this is not the spice that you find in the store. So it is unclear if simply using the spice can impart these benefits.

May Help Lower Disease Risk

Carotenoids are plant compounds that are known to provide certain health benefits, such as protection against certain diseases, particularly certain cancers and eye diseases. Carotenoids are found in plants with bright rich colors, like peppers that are used to make paprika.

In a small study involving 33 healthy volunteers, researchers studied the impact of paprika oleoresin supplements (a paprika oil blend) on plasma carotenoid concentrations. Volunteers took either 0, 20, or 100 mg of paprika oleoresin over twelve weeks. Researchers found that carotenoid levels (particularly β-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin) increased according to the dose range and no adverse reactions were reported.

May Help Maintain Bone Health

The carotenoids in paprika may also help postmenopausal women maintain bone health. A study published in Food and Nutrition Research found that the use of a paprika carotenoid extract may improve bone turnover in postmenopausal women when compared to a placebo.

The study involved 100 healthy, postmenopausal women divided into two groups. One group was given a daily 20mg paprika carotenoid extract (equivalent to 1.4 mg of carotenoids) or a placebo for 24 weeks. The group who took the extract had significantly lower levels of bone resorption (bone tissue breakdown) than the placebo group leading researchers to conclude that the extract may contribute to maintaining bone quality in postmenopausal women.

Nutrition Facts

Most recipes do not call for more than a teaspoon of paprika per serving. One teaspoon of the ground spice (2.3 grams) provides approximately 6.5 calories, 1.2 grams of carbohydrate, 0.3 grams of protein, and 0.3 grams of fat.

The micronutrients provided by paprika are not significant simply because the amount of spice consumed is likely to be small. But if you consume one full teaspoon of paprika you'll benefit from 56.6 mcg of vitamin A or about 6.2% of the daily value (the "DV" that you see on food labels).

You'll also get 0.67mg of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) or 4.5% of the daily value. There is 0.05mg of vitamin B6 or about 2.8% of the daily value and 0.49mg of iron or about 2.8% of the daily value. Minerals in paprika also include riboflavin (0.03mg or 2.3% daily value), and niacin (0.03mg or 1.4% daily value).

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

There are three different varieties of paprika. Choose the variety that is best for you based on your cooking and flavor preferences.

  • Regular or basic paprika. Sometimes called "sweet paprika" or traditional paprika, this variety has a milder flavor and sweet notes. It is often made from chilis sourced from California, Hungary, or South America. This is the type of paprika that you are most likely to find in the spice aisle of your local supermarket. It is the type that is usually used to garnish foods like deviled eggs or potato salad.
  • Hungarian paprika. Sometimes called "hot paprika," this variety has a spicier, sweeter, hotter flavor and is often considered a premium spice. This spice is used in traditional Hungarian foods such as goulash. Within this type of paprika, there are eight grades each with its own heat level and flavor profile. They include: különleges, csípősmentes csemege, csemege paprika, csípős csemege, édesnemes, félédes, rózsa, and erős.
  • Spanish paprika. Also called "pimentón" or "smoked paprika," this is a smoky variety of paprika made from peppers that have been dried over oak fires. It comes in different heat levels ranging from mild to very spicy.

Store paprika like you store all of your dried spices. You can keep it in an airtight container away from heat and light. You can also storing in the refrigerator up to 2 months. Ground paprika should last two to three years, but keeping spices this long can impact nutrient and flavor potency.

Sprinkle paprika on foods when you want a little bit of extra color, heat, or smokiness. Paprika can also be used in meat and seafood rubs or in spice mixes that are added to nuts or other snacks. Sprinkle french fries with paprika to give them a hint of spice or add paprika to roasted vegetables. Top creamy soups (like creamy cauliflower or roasted squash soup) with the spice to add color and sweetness. Some people even use paprika in cocktails or sprinkled on warm, spicy beverages.

Possible Side Effects

Paprika is likely safe if you use it in typical amounts required for cooking. However, spices may cause allergic or non-allergic reactions in some people. There are some published reports of paprika allergy, and some researchers even refer to paprika as a hidden allergen.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, it is important to differentiate between the two types of reactions because allergic reactions can be life-threatening, while non-allergic reactions generally resolve without treatment.

Signs and symptoms of a non-allergic reaction include skin rash, itching in the mouth, or coughing from inhalation. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing or anaphylaxis (in a severe reaction).If you have a known allergy to pepper or experience symptoms after consuming foods with paprika, speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized advice.

Common Questions

What is the best substitute for paprika?

The best substitute for paprika depends on how you are using it and the flavor that you seek. If you're making a hot, spicy dish try using another type of dried chili, like ground cayenne, red chili powder, or crushed red pepper flakes. If you're looking for a smoky flavor try chipotle powder.

What is paprika oil?

Paprika oil is a beautiful bright red or red-brownish oil that can be used as a garnish or to saute foods. It is used in some Hungarian foods. You can buy paprika oil in many supermarkets or you can make your own at home.

How do I make my own paprika oil?

To make your own paprika oil you simply combine a high-quality oil and your favorite paprika spice blend. You can use olive oil or another type of oil like sunflower oil. Simply warm about a half cup of oil on the stove over low heat (being careful not to increase the heat too high). Then add about two teaspoons of paprika and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Finally, strain using a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Store it in an airtight container away from heat and light.

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