The first pepper plants arrived in Hungary during the l7th century. Some say they were brought by Turks, who occupied the country at the time and who grew the plants under strict guard in the central courtyards of their homes–threatening any Hungarians who wished to grow them with decapitation. Others believe pepper plants were introduced by ethnic groups from the Balkans, who were fleeing north from the Turks. This last theory is the most likely, since the towns of Szeged and Kalocsa, which compete against each other for the title of “Paprika capital,” are both in the southern part of the Great Plain, close to the Balkans.
Henceforth, records kept by pepper growers and old cookbooks show that paprika became commonly used as a spice in Hungary at the end of the l8th century. Later, it was French chef Auguste Escoffier who introduced it to western European cuisine. In 1879 he had the red powder brought from Szeged on the river Tisza to Monte Carlo, where he brought fame and recognition to this “Hungarian spice” in the noble kitchens of the Grand Hotel.