Hódi Paprika: A Life of Spice in Szeged

8 minutes read

Paprika is truly a way of life for the Hódi family in Szeged, one of the two main paprika-producing regions in southern Hungary. The family-run company is one of the few which undertakes the entire paprika production process with their own hands: they grow and harvest the peppers, dry and grind them into paprika powder, and then package, market, and sell it.  Their small manufactory is located just a few minutes from their paprika fields.

Hódi paprika  is amongst the most high-quality paprika produced in Hungary. The Hódis exclusively use their own peppers for paprika production (with the exception of their new organic paprika label), and they prefer the varieties that are traditional to the Szeged region. The peppers are harvested at their peak ripeness, air-dried, and then ground in a stone mill. They were one of the first in Hungary to make smoked paprika.

We sell Hódi paprika in our Budapest shop, in our online wine shop in Europe, and we recently imported it to the US, where we sell it in our US online wine shop.

Ágota Hódi is the fifth-generation in the family paprika business. We interviewed her to learn more about the family’s business, paprika classification, and more.

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What is your family’s history with paprika?

ÁGOTA HODI: My grandmother’s mother was planting and producing paprika as well. There was a time when it was forbidden for simple citizens to produce paprika; only the state-run paprika-manufacturing company was allowed to do it. But she had been making paprika before this law was enacted, and she did not want to give it up. So she was arrested, and spent some days in prison because of paprika. But then the law was changed again, so she could continue to make paprika legally. When I was a child there was paprika everywhere, and I spent my childhood in the paprika fields. I learned to drive a car in the paprika fields, and during the summers we always had to help pick the paprika. Now my life is still full of paprika! My parents have always done this work, but our company was only founded in 1993.

Your family does everything from growing to selling the product. Is that typical?

No, it is not! Usually some companies grow the peppers, and other companies process them. Not many companies do both.

Do people in Hungary commonly grow their own peppers to make paprika for personal use?

No, that is not common, not even in Szeged.

Read more about Hungarian paprika.

How does commercially-made paprika (like yours) differ from homemade?

With commercial paprika there is less handwork. Some people think that we hand-string the peppers to dry. But nowadays that is not done, and there is no time. We do the drying in big drying machine. With planting, things are more or less done the same way. We still harvest by hand. We grind with a big millstone, which is the best way to do it.

What is the difference between paprika from Kalocsa and Szeged?

Both places have regulations describing the production and the planting. There are some minor differences in these regulations. But in my opinion, good quality paprika is the same in Kalocsa and Szeged.

What are some of your favorite ways to cook with paprika?

Lecsó (which is especially good using our smoked paprika) and stews (particularly from pork).

Are there any unique ways that you and your family use paprika?

We make savory cookies.

Is smoked paprika a traditional product in Hungary?

In Hungary it is a new thing, but not in the rest of the world. In Spain paprika is traditionally smoked. We smoke ours with beech for a few days after drying takes place. The smoking gives the paprika an amazing taste. This product has been very successful.

How do you recommend using smoked paprika?

You can use it with all types of typical Hungarian dishes (with the exception of halászlé, fisherman’s soup). Smoked paprika is also great for international cuisine, and I use it for barbecue, Chinese, Indian, and British recipes. And of course, with Spanish cuisine.

What is the best way to store paprika?

Keep it cool and dry, with no exposure to water, sun, or air. The best way to store is in a tin, but in a sealed bag is also ok. Storing in the freezer is ok. But it’s important to have it in a well-sealed bag that doesn’t allow air or water in it.

How long does paprika last (if properly stored)? How do you know if it is not good anymore?

From the grinding and packaging, we say that it remains in good condition for one to 1.5 years. But honestly, you can keep using it for much longer. It will just lose some of its color, but that is normal. Perhaps it won’t be first class anymore, but the paprika will still be fine. You can store good paprika for two to four years. But if the taste changes, and develops a sweet fruit taste, then it means it is not good anymore.

How did the harvest this year turn out?

This year we have 7.5 hectares (18.5 acres) of paprika planted.  We regularly rotate the fields, so we do not always have paprika planted in every field.

This year was a little late, meaning that it started late, so that’s why the harvest ended late. There was not enough time for the peppers to grow and to get ripeness, so we lost paprika in the fields because of this. But we will still have 20,000 kilograms of paprika this year.

We have produced an organic paprika this year. For this, we bought the peppers from one of the best organic farmers in Hungary. We produce the paprika, and we are allowed to call it certified organic.

Is there something that people get wrong or misunderstand about paprika?

For example, a lot of people think that édesnemes is a good paprika. Many years ago it was, but nowadays it is not. These days not even all of the paprika labeled édesnemes is from Hungary, and lots of paprika companies want to call their products édesnemes (or edelsüss in German), since there is this misconception that that means it is good. Now the II. class paprika can even be called édesnemes, with only 80 ASTA! I would never buy it.

How do the paprikas coming from places like China, Israel, Spain, and the US differ from authentic Hungarian paprika?

In Hungary we have always had imported paprika. Just now, it is a really high percentage: we have about 90 percent imported paprika and just ten percent Hungarian on the (domestic) market. Paprika from China is very cheap, for example, just $2 USD / kilogram. But Chinese paprika is very different in taste, aroma, and smell. The reason for these differences is the soil in the fields the peppers are grown in, the climate, and the manufacturing traditions.

How can you describe the characteristics of Hungarian paprika?

Hungarian paprika was never the best in the world because of its ASTA number, since ASTA is only about color. Hungarian paprika is the best because of all of its characteristics: the color, aroma, and taste. A good paprika must have all of these features. Real paprika shows its color when it is heated in fat or oil. And Hungarian paprika is always red (or some shade of red), and not brown or dark colors. (Smoking turns the paprika browner, but that is another question.)

How is life in the paprika business?

I am positive about the future of our company. I think throughout the world, even in Hungary, quality food is becoming more valuable. Twenty or 30 years ago in Hungary you could buy quality food everywhere, but that is not so anymore. So quality products, like ours, will become more sought out and valuable.

My purpose is to renew the reputation of Hungarian paprika—here in Hungary, and also in the world. I see that people love it, and they want to have it (even if they are not from here). I want to show what the real paprika is like, that people can use it in many ways (and not only for Hungarian cuisine, how healthy it is, and what a good spice it is. I want to keep building on what we have, make it the best, and make it a trend! I am also curious to learn about the experiences with paprika in other countries.

Once on a television show I said this about Hódi paprika’s life: it’s pretty hot, a little bit smoked, but mostly very sweet!

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Note: ASTA Explained

The color of paprika, as Ágota explained, is one of its most important features. The ASTA number is method of classification, and is the measurement of the brightness of the red color. ASTA refers to the American Spice Trade Association, a group (founded in 1907) that represents the interests of the U.S. spice industry, and whose members include producers, growers, processors, importers, brokers, and others associated with the U.S. spice industry.

 According to Ágota, ASTA numbers can change from year to year, depending on the variety of pepper, the weather, the level of ripeness at harvest, the number of days it is left to ripen after harvest, and other factors.

Hódi Paprika’s ASTA Numbers:

Hódi Sweet Paprika: 148 ASTA

Hódi Smoked Sweet Paprika: 154 ASTA

Hódi Smoked Hot Paprika: 152 ASTA

Hódi Hot Paprika: 125 ASTA

Cooking With Paprika


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