Spain is the world´s leading paprika producer. The vast majority of the paprika found on supermarket shelves in the USA and Germany is of Spanish origin, but the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, France, and the Czech Republic also look to Spain for an important quantity of their paprika supply. The qualities, however, vary greatly from country to country, making it necessary for buyers to know the requirements of their own markets before contacting Spanish paprika suppliers.
This article is dedicated to all those out there who think they can contact a paprika supplier, get a price quote, request samples, order a shipment, and have that be the end of the transaction. Not with Spanish paprika, and certainly not when quality and price matter. There are many factors to consider before contacting Spanish paprika suppliers that will make the buying process easier on everyone involved.
QUALITY AND ASTA, ONE IN THE SAME
The color of paprika, measured in ASTA´s, is the main factor used to determine the quality and price of the spice and is therefore usually a buyer´s first concern. Because surface color is affected by the fineness of the grind, the temperature at which the paprika is kept, and the moisture content, it is an unreliable indicator of the paprika´s colouring ability. The ASTA system, the international measurement of the extractable color, is the technical way for both buyers and suppliers to be assured that they´re speaking the same language. Paprika prices are generally given per ASTA unit per kilogram.
It is imperative for buyers to know the ASTA range typically offered in their market. In many countries in Western Europe and the USA, the paprika found on supermarket shelves has an ASTA of between 65 and 180 (the higher the ASTA, the brighter red in color). In countries where paprika is used for its coloring properties more than flavour, or where consumers value competetive pricing over quality, lower ASTA´s are available and much more common. Anyone in doubt need simply look at the prices at their local supermarkets. If it´s cheap, it´s most likely a low-ASTA paprika. When in doubt, however, Spanish suppliers often recommend sending a small sample of a competitor´s paprika to them for evaluation, as Spanish producers are famous for their specialized blending of various grinds and colors to find the ASTA and paprika mixture that best adapts to the needs of the buyer.
Aside from the ASTA, there are three classifications of Spanish paprika: sweet, semi-sweet or bittersweet, and spicy. All three types come in smoked and non-smoked versions, smoked paprika being the more expensive of the two, but offering a rich flavour and aroma that are nothing like those of non-smoked paprika. Again, buyers should only request smoked paprika when they know their market is willing to pay for it.
The final note to take into consideration when choosing a supplier is what´s known as Designation of Origin. The origin of certain products is guaranteed by regulating councils that control the authenticity and production processes of certified companies. There are two Designations of Origin for Spanish paprika, the internationally recognized smoked Pimentón de la Vera (De La Vera Paprika) and sun-dried Pimentón de Murcia (Murcia Paprika), with a total of twenty certified producers.
Paprika with Designation of Origin is generally more expensive than non-DO paprika because it is understood that certain standards are obligatorily met with regards to quality and origin. To remain competetive in markets where cost is more important than quality, certified producers under the two DO´s also dispose of non-DO paprika with the same ASTA range available from other non-certified producers. In other words, buyers shouldn´t be scared off by the DO seal. Quite the contrary, these producers can offer everything the other´s can, in addition to providing the superior products with Designation of Origin.
When requesting samples from suppliers it is important to remember that the rich flavour of paprika only comes out when cooked, so it will have very little flavour when tested dry. However, if the buyer has communicated the color (ASTA), quality, flavour, and end use that are most common in their market to the supplier, there should be no surprises when the samples arrive at the buyers doorstep.