Paprika (Chili Pepper) originated in the southern part of Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Antilles. The European and Asian name of ’paprika
’ can be traced back to the Greek-Latin ’peperi
’ expressions, meaning ’pepper’. The Hungarian word, ’paprika’ is a diminutive version of the Slav(ic) expression, ’papar
We can talk about two distinct ways of the Paprika’s dispersion in Europe. First, it was Christopher Columbus who is said to have brought with him a type of pepper, which was chillier than the Caucasian type
. Paprika was a domesticated plant among the Native American people, thus the explorers named it ’Indian pepper’. Due to its outstanding adaptability, this tropical plant got acclimatized to the very different climate and conditions. From Spain it was introduced to Southern France and England, and it soon became Europe’s favorite decorative houseplant. In Hungary it was also used for decoration, first. In 1570, it was mentioned in Margit Széchy’s garden as ’red Turkish pepper’, and in 1579, the French botanist, Clusius introduced it into the garden of Boldizsár Batthyányi as well.
Second, the use of paprika as a spice was spread by the Turks in the 18th century
. They brought it to the Balkan Peninsula first, and later to Hungary. The first Hungarian records about its cultivation originate from the Kalocsa and Szeged region. The dry climate of the riverbanks of the Great Plains, the longer hours of sunshine, and the special soil resulted in the development of the characteristic Hungarian paprika, which surpasses the original pepper types with its fiery redness, its taste and special aroma.
Quite a bit of time passed before the local, Hungarian cookbooks mentioned the paprika. Its use spread among the everyday people first (herdsmen, fishermen, and the peasantry). They applied it both as a spice and as an herb. In the 17th century, paprika was already used as a medicine to cure the Epidemic Typhus (Morbus Hungaricus
) decimating the population of the swampy regions of the Hungarian Great Plains. In his 1775 garden guide, "Új füves és virágos magyar kert
" (New Hungarian Garden of Herbs and Flowers) József Csapó described paprika as a “very strong instrument /sic/, which really pumps up people’s blood”. Truly, paprika has a significant medicinal value
. It is one of the richest sources of vitamin C
– even in ground form – and as a spice, it increases the appetite, and it contributes to digestion. The crystalline capsaicin
extracted from the paprika is used as a basis for medication for the treatment of arthritis as well as for creams and ointments to relieve minor aches and pains.
Paprika gained ground speedily, and it soon became one of the most distinctive spices of the Hungarian cuisine
. Ubaldus, a Capuchin friar from Bátaszék recorded in the 18th century:
“The spice of their food is some red beast, and they call it paprika, and it burns like the devil
Photo: Paprika Museum Kalocsa
Indeed, in the Kalocsa region paprika is a staple ingredient for the chili cooked in large cauldrons outdoors (bográcsban főtt pörkölt
), the fried meat, the stuffed cabbage, and last, but not least, the soups and stews. In the 20th century, women of this region have expressed ingenuity when they combined the powdered paprika and sugar, and gave birth to the filling of the unique paprika cake
, a favorite dessert of the poorer families. As odd as it may sound, the spicy paprika cake is still popular, and it is recognized as a local specialty.
The men of the region also found creative uses for paprika. Mihály Borssy from Kecskemét was the first to make paprika pálinka
. He combined wheat brandy, paprika aroma, water, and ripe, chili paprika from Kalocsa, to create another Hungarian specialty brandy that you will find listed on Hungarian restaurants’ drink list, in company of the famous Zwack brandy or the barackpálinka
Although Kalocsa is now considered by many to be the "Paprika Capital”, in the beginning only the villages on the banks of the Danube cultivated the plant. However, in the tax records from the early 18th century we can already find the Paprika family name, indicating that the plant was widespread in the Kalocsa region by that time. According to a church report (Canonica Visitatio
) dating from 1748, János Molnár, a clerk and chorister from Bátya received a paprika field as remuneration for his services; and in the tithing records from 1766 someone is mentioned to have offered to the church, for the first time, a string of paprika from the Szeremle region
By the mid 19th century, paprika became a product widely sought for. Its extensive cultivation in the Kalocsa region started towards the end of the 19th century
, Bátya being one of its central locations. The paprika cultivated on the typically 1-2 acre family farms provided a living for nearly the whole population of the village. Not surprisingly, the largest paprika mill of the region, owned by Lajos Merkler, was opened here in Bátya, in 1912.
During World War I, the demand for paprika increased significantly, as it became a substitute for pepper in many countries
. By 1920 paprika cultivation and export took on immense proportions, which resulted in many new territories becoming involved in it. In order to preempt an over-production crisis, and to protect the quality of the paprika, a statutory order was released in 1934, establishing the Kalocsa and Szeged closed paprika district
(zárt fűszerpaprika körzet
Images and information courtesy of the Archiepiscopal Treasury, Kalocsa
History of Paprika Cultivation and Processing in Hungary
Red/Chili Pepper, paprika can be planted in two different ways: transplanting bedding plants or sowing seeds. When growing bedding plants, they usually sow the seeds around March 12, on Gregory’s day. When the seeds are sown directly outside, this is done in May. After harvesting, in the 18th century, they threaded the pods on a long string, and dried them in the Beehive oven, until they "rattled"
Paprika Museum Kalocsa
The Paprika Museum gives visitors an insight into the details of the manufacturing processes of the world-famous Hungarian paprika
. Also called the red gold, this sweet herb is essential in the culinary culture and the traditional image of Hungary.