Paprika peppers are fairly easy to grow and delightful to use. The aroma and flavor are more than worth the effort. Here is the process we use for growing and using paprika peppers.
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Paprika Peppers Are a Spice
In her book Grow Your Own Spices, Tasha Greer explains the difference between herbs and spices.
“Many people class herbs and spices together for good reason. They are both aromatic, have medicinal and culinary uses, and are consumed in small quantities due to their potency. Yet from a gardening perspective, spices are very different from herbs.
Herbs are the leafy green parts of plants that can be harvested at any point during their growing season for fresh use. They can also be easily dried to use later.
Spices, by contrast, require harvesting at specific points of plant development. Spices need specialized care such as enduring cross-pollination or vernalization. Additionally, spices have unique processing requirements to preserve them for later use.”
I love this definition. From a gardener’s perspective, it helps to have the clarity. This is a very comprehensive book on growing and harvesting spices. Tasha Greer works her way through almost 30 different spices that you can grow at home. The book goes from easy to difficult so you can build knowledge and confidence. Each spice has its own page of care, propagation and harvesting information. Grow Your Own Spices was released in January 2020 and you can get your copy here.
Growing Paprika Peppers From Seed
We grow the Alma Paprika. On the heat scale, paprika peppers are about as low as bell peppers. We don’t use paprika for its heat, but for the distinctive flavor it adds to many dishes. My favorite breakfast is an egg fresh from our chickens, poached in cream and seasoned with paprika and salt. I usually add a little sprinkle of parmesan on top.
Paprika peppers are among the seeds that do best if started indoors and set outside as plants 6-8 weeks later when temperatures are above 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 45 degrees Fahrenheit at night. In our post Starting Seeds Indoors, we go through the process of starting seeds to build strong, healthy plants. Paprika takes about 70-80 days to go from seed to harvest. It is something that does very well in our zone 3 garden.
In our garden, Paprika is planted in with the other peppers. Each plant keeps its marker so it is easy to tell which are which. Without those plant markers, I would be lost! So many peppers look similar but are used completely differently. Paprika is the only pepper we process this way. However, this pepper does just as well growing in a pot (at least gallon size) or planter in the full sun.
Some Growing Tips
Be sure to keep it watered well no matter where it is planted. If peppers are dropping their blossoms, try putting a tablespoon of Epsom salts in the ground next to the roots. Just dig a little shallow ditch and sprinkle them in so they can be watered into the soil. The fruit comes from the blossoms. If the blossoms fall off there will be no fruit.
When planting the seedlings in the soil, plant them just a little lower than they were previously growing. This gives them a sturdier stem to fight off the wind. Don’t get carried away, all the leaves need to be above the soil line.
Harvesting Paprika Peppers
Each plant will produce several peppers. Not all the peppers will turn ripe at the same time.
Ripe for a paprika means the fruit is the desired color (usually red) all over the plant and the fruit isn’t hard anymore, it kind of has a give to it when you grasp it. Sometimes insects will leave holes in the fruit so it will ripen near the hole long before it does anywhere else.
When the fruit start ripening, they can either be left on the plant until the end of the season and picked all at once or they can be picked and processed as they ripen. It is more convenient to pick them all at once but the harvest will be greater if they are picked as they ripen.
The holes the bugs make can cause the pepper to mold on the inside before you harvest it. I don’t mind sharing with the critters, that kind of goes with growing your own food, but I do harvest peppers as they ripen.
Using Paprika Peppers
In our post about preserving peppers, we talk about all the different ways we process and preserve different peppers. Paprika isn’t in there because it is different than all of the other peppers.
Sometimes, I use Paprika fresh and sliced in sautéed vegetables or stir-fry. The way that best brings out the paprika flavor and aroma is to dry and grind the pepper and use the powder (in your fresh eggs for breakfast).
Cut the stem off the pepper and clean it. Cut it open and slice it. I slice it thin and then it doesn’t take so long to dry. The wall of the paprika is really thick so it takes a while. That is why it can’t be hung to dry in a ristra like Anaheims or Cayennes. They end up molding on the inside before they dry out.
It doesn’t really matter how thinly it is sliced. What is more important is that the slices are the same size so they all dry evenly. Take the seeds out or not, it is up to you.
I dry the paprika slices in my dehydrator overnight. If the pieces are hard when they are cool, then they are dry. Then I grind the cool, dry pieces in a coffee/spice grinder. Mine is just little. I put in a few at a time.
Store the paprika powder in a tight-lidded jar. Use it like you would any paprika just be prepared for a flavor burst when you taste it. If you have only used paprika purchased from the store, you might not know it even has a flavor.
IT DOES AND YOU WILL LOVE ITS FLAVOR!