Spanish paprika, or pimentón, originated in the region of La Vera in the 16th century when Jeronimos monks returned from the Americas with a special variety of red peppers previously unknown in Spain. The monks planted these red peppers in their monastery gardens, then dried, smoked and ground them. The result was the very first pimentón.
Folklore says the monks kept their coveted recipe secret as long as they could, but word of mouth inevitably spread throughout the region. Soon other farmers began planting the same peppers but applied the drying and milling processes with their own artisanal touch. Those early family recipes were carried down and perfected across generations. Five centuries later, Pimetón de La Vera emerged as unrivalled in quality and finesse.
This red gold eventually became one of the prime agricultural treasures of the La Vera region, bringing newfound wealth to small local farmers.
Today, Pimentón de La Vera maintains its high quality with a coordinated effort to preserve traditional production methods. A regulatory council was formed to certify the proper origin, traditional cultivation method and hand-crafted processing of the peppers. Regulators also certify the aroma and flavor which result from smoking the peppers in oak wood hearths and turning them over by hand in a gradual process that takes a couple of weeks. The intense red color is also strictly monitored since it can only be achieved with an unusually high grade of carotene, which is absorbed by the peppers as they grow in the distinctive soil and climate found in La Vera.
Interestingly, the particular type of red peppers used to make pimentón actually originated from Southwestern North America, Central America and Northern South America. There are also different varieties and grades. Specifically, varieties range from mild to spicy, which in turn are sorted into three grades: sweet (dulce), bittersweet (agridulce) and hot (picante).
Now remember: Spanish foods are definitely seasoned but not “hot and spicy” as one usually finds in Mexican or Tex-Mex food. This means that a “hot” pimentón is still relatively mild compared to the chili pepper we’re familiar with here in the USA.
And a helpful tip: if you want to make sure you’ve got the authentic Pimentón de La Vera, look for a seal on the package picturing the map of Extremadura on a red background with a red pepper and a sun swirl outlined in gold. Just beneath the map you should see the words “Consejo Regulador Denominacion de Origen Protegida”, plus a numbered label.
In Spain today, the village of Cuacos, just beneath the Jeronimos monk’s monastery, is home to four of the certified pimentón producers of La Vera: Las Hermanas, Vega Caceres, Orquidea de Yuste, and Yuste 1557.
Besides Cuacos, other villages in La Vera also developed their own pimentón, the most well-known being Clavel de la Vera from Jarandilla, and La Dalia, Caballo de Oros and El Colorin from Jaraiz.
So, the next time you dine at a Spanish restaurant anywhere in the world, it’s likely that at least one of the dishes you order will be seasoned with pimentón. And, you might even be able to judge the restaurant’s Spanish authenticity by asking whether the pimentón they use is from La Vera. If your server says, “Claro que si, es de La Vera!”, chances are you’re enjoying an authentic (and tasty) Spanish meal!
Hungry for even more information about Pimentón de la Vera?
Or curious to find some interesting recipes for Spanish pimento dishes? Check out this site:
Thinking of visiting the La Vera region anytime soon?
Well, believe it or not, there’s actually a pepper museum in the town of Jaraiz de la Vera where you can check out the Pimentón de la Vera Museum (really). And don’t forget to pick up a few packages of authentic red gold at the while you’re there!
Experimenting with different pimentón types?
Drop us a note, tell us which one you like best!