Paprykarz szczeciński is a Polish paste made by mixing fish paste (around 50%) with rice, onion, tomato concentrate, vegetable oil, salt and a mixture of spices including chilli pepper powder.
It was introduced in the 1960s. It is only available as canned food. It was inspired by African chop-chop. Due to larger content of the fish paste, it has a more distinctive and spicier taste than the similar Asian otak-otak.
In 1957 People’s Republic of Poland created the first long range fishing company of Szczecin, and in 1962, the company was merged with a canning factory, creating the fishing and canning company PPUDiR Gryf (Przedsiębiorstwo Połowów Dalekomorskich i Usług Rybackich “Gryf”). The company became the leading fishing company in State-Socialist Poland, only to go bankrupt, like many state owned companies, with the fall of communism.
In the early 1960s the company started fishing and harvesting operations near the coasts of West Africa. Crews of reefer ships were exposed to varieties of African food, including chop-chop – a paste made of minced fish meat (especially pagrus meat) and pima. In 1965 the company’s laboratories released the first series of artificially designed paste, where African spices were replaced with cheaper ingredients available in Europe. The first cans of paprykarz were produced in either 1965 or 1967. Its invention is attributed to the company’s then-chief of production, Wojciech Jakacki. The creation of the Szczecin paprikas was the side effect of “leftover management” in the company’s production facilities. The paste contained pieces left after cutting ice blocks with various species of frozen fish. The specific ingredients of paprykarz changed over time, as Gryf fishing ships changed their fishing locations. The chilli powder changed from African pima to a Hungarian product. The quality is said to have degraded over time.
Since then, the product has been exported to over 32 countries, including the USA, Japan, Jordan, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo. Currently it is produced by various firms in Central Europe, mainly Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. In Colombia, due to its popularity, the Polish product was copied locally and sold with a label “Made in Europe”. The paprykarz szczeciński can with a Gryf logo was a well recognised product in Poland and in many countries where it was sold.
Paprykarz represented a high volume of Gryf productions, in some periods – about 50% of cans made by the company were of that label. In modern Poland, although Gryf no longer exists, the name paprykarz szczeciński has been viewed as legally unrestricted, and several new fishing and canning companies produce their versions of paprykarz, but mostly using fish from inland waters rather than the mix of ocean fish that the original paprykarz contained. In the mid-2000s, West Pomeranian Voivodeship where Szczecin is located, started efforts to reclaim the use of the name for canning companies located in its territory, and to obtain the European Union’s Protected Geographical Status for the product.