Paprika is a carotenoid that is often used to add color and flavor to food. Carotenoids are red, orange and yellow pigments synthesized by plants. Several forms of carotenoids exist, but the most common ones in Western diets are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene. Carotenoid pigments can be found in many fruits and vegetables including spinach, tomato, squash, pumpkin, broccoli, corn, kale, watermelon and grapefruit.
Paprika is derived from Capsicum annuum, which includes bell peppers and chili peppers. This popular and fragrant spice has been used for centuries, though its exact origins are not entirely clear. Some reports link paprika to a Hindu figure named Rysh Paprike, however, modern-day historians associate the spice with the Serbian word, “paprena”, which means “fiery”. Most of the world’s best paprika is produced in Hungary where it is commonly used in many dishes such as goulash and chicken papirkash. Many Portugese, Spanish and Turkish recipes use paprika in casseroles, soups and stews. Various Indian dishes such as tandoori chicken and several vegetable dishes use paprika for food coloring as well as a garnish.
Studies have shown that diets that are rich in natural carotenoids (as opposed to supplements) can decrease mortality from several chronic illnesses. They are also involved in the disruption of cancer pathways and inflammation. Carotenoid pigments act as antioxidants which promote immune function, quench free radicals and protect against oxidative damage to cells. Individuals with high concentrations of carotenoids in their blood have a decreased risk of cancer and heart disease.
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Photograph of red bell pepper courtesyof Wikia Recipes http://recipes.wikia.com/wiki/Paprika