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Grow your own paprika

Red peppers can be ground into paprika.
Red peppers can be ground into paprika.
Matti Paavonen

There is a deep sense of satisfaction and pride that comes from growing your own groceries.  No store fare can compare to the freshness and flavor of homegrown food.  Producing veggies and fruits is often the first step taken in home gardening.  Once you gain some experience and confidence, try some new horticultural adventures: consider growing your own paprika.

Associated with Hungarian and Spanish cuisine, paprika is really just finely ground red peppers.  Different varieties of peppers produce their own unique flavors, ranging from mild to hot.  It takes a little digging to find peppers traditionally used for paprika.  Seed Savers Exchange offers two kinds, Alma Paprika and Fehor Ozon.  Reimer Seeds also carries several types, Paprika Supreme and the Hungarian Paprika Hot Pepper.  Another variety, Dulce Rojo, can be found at Kitchen Garden Seeds.

Grow paprika peppers as you would any other pepper.  In the Midwest, that means starting them indoors 6-8 weeks before transplanting to the garden.  The fruits must be left on the plant until they turn red; at that point they can be harvested and dried.  This can be done by hanging them out of direct sunlight for several months, but the preferred methods are by baking in an oven or using a food dehydrator.

If using the oven, lay the peppers on a baking sheet and dry for several hours at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, turning them several times.  When they are fairly dry, remove stems and press the fruits open to expose the pith and seeds.  Continue drying until the fruits are fairly brittle.  A dehydrator should take several hours to finish the job as well.  Store the dried peppers in an airtight container in the freezer; fresh paprika is semi-perishable, so only grind enough to last a month or two at most.  Grind the peppers with a blender, coffee grinder, or ol' fashioned mortar and pestle. 

Much of the heat found in peppers is held in the seeds; to adjust the flavor punch to your liking, keep or remove seeds when drying.  Typically paprika is used as a mild garnish, but it must be heated to release it's full spectrum of flavor.  Try adding the fresh paprika to dishes during cooking.  This summer, treat yourself to truly fresh paprika spice from your own garden.  Your tastebuds will be delighted.