P words and pepper

What is pepper in Spain, or generally in Spanish?

Well, first what is pepper in English in the U.S.? Think about it, not so simple. Salt and pepper – small peppercorns (usually black but can be white, green or pink) already ground or for foodies freshly ground. What about those big green, yellow, orange, red and even purple fleshy things, sometimes used for stuffing, sometimes extras for salad? And what about the wild number of “hot” peppers, some of which are actually well identified with the U.S. (say Hatch) or the much larger group from Latin America, although mostly from Mexico? And then as frequently used in Italian cooking (or sprinkled on pizza) what are peperoncino (though usually the seeds, not the pepper itself). And then that confusing different names whether dried or fresh, e.g. poblano vs ancho.

Pepper is not so simple in any language. The biologists will label most instances of “pepper” as Capsicum but the most common (ordinary black pepper in a shaker) is Piperaceae family. If ordinary black pepper is ground peppercorns what then is paprika? And you know that stuff they stuff some green olive, pimento, what’s that?

So in Spain we have these three key P words: PIMENTÓNPIMIENTA and PIMIENTO. While “hot” peppers are not as popular in Spain as Mexico (or now the U.S.) there are a few to mention and all of these are PIMIENTO: pimiento by itself generally refers to the standard bell pepper (regardless of color) it may also refer to these peppers:  piquillo (mild, generally equivalent to roasted red bell peppers but unique to Spain), padrón  (fairly mild, served natural or cured), piparras, guindilla (sometimes translated as synonymous with chili (and we’ll skip the chili/chile debate)), ñoras, and others that are less common.  This are basically members of Capsicum though rarely as spicy as most Capsicum  in Latin America.

Pepper, as in peppercorns, is pimienta (and unrelated, despite similarity in spelling, to pimento) . The color, if mentioned at all will be a qualifying of this term, pimienta blanca. It is somewhat less used than in the U.S. but is generally available.

So that leaves pimentón. This is almost always paprika, the ground powder from Capsicum annuum. There are various types: dulce (sweet), picante (spicy, though not much compared to Mexican sense of “spicy”) and ahumdo (smoked). Given that paprika from Spain is often found in U.S. stores it should be remembered this powder is more strongly connected with Hungary and its etymology stems from Serbo-Croatian so it originated outside Spain but now is quite common in cuisine in Spain.

Peppers, especially piquillo and guindilla are often available in tapas so you’ll probably just see these names but it’s tough to guess what is meant if you just just see pimiento listed on menu your guess is as good as mine as to what it may mean.

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