Sustainable sourcing: Totana, Murcia, Spain
For our second spice sourcing trip, we travelled to Murcia in southern Spain in search of a paprika producer with which to partner. The city of Murcia is surrounded by agricultural land where the sweet red peppers for paprika production are grown. Agriculture in the region is largely dependent on natural irrigation provided by the Sierra Espuna mountain range which also provides an impressive back drop to the area.
Sierra Espuna mountain range
Paprika or 'pimenton' in Spanish is a key part of Spanish cuisine and so in turn the knowledge and culture of growing and processing is also an important part of the Spanish economy. There are two regions in Spain which are recognised by denomination of origin for their paprika production. Murcia for sweet paprika and La Vera in Extremadura for smoked paprika. Only red peppers that are grown and processed in either Murcia or La Vera can receive status of origin. The singular variety of red pepper that is grown in Murcia is called the 'Bola Americana'. Once the pepper has been dried and is ready for processing, its name changes to the 'Nora' pepper. After the peppers have been crushed to a fine powder, the name changes one last time to 'pimenton' or paprika.
Around 30% of paprika produced in Murcia is made using red peppers from the region and a further 70% from imported peppers. Peru and China are the main producing regions for Spanish imports. Due to the difficulty in recognising the origin of a dried and ground red pepper there remains ambiguity over origin, even in certified products, like with many commodities in the food supply chain. Traceability is so important when it comes to what we put in our mouths and it is one of the driving forces we have as a company in order to make supply chains safer and more sustainable.
With this in mind we travelled to Totana on the outskirts of Murcia where we met with many farmers and co-operatives in search of our producer partner. The one we decided to work with stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Not only are they looking to offer an alternative artisanal paprika to the market but they are doing so while preserving traditional processing and taste.
What struck me as most interesting between our trip to India and to Spain were the similarity in difficulties that the spice industry is facing. We hope that by telling more farmer stories and making our supply chains traceable we can bring lasting benefit to the industry and flavours we enjoy as consumers.
Head of the cooperative and life-long sweet red pepper farmer - Manolo.