Spanish peppers. Juan Manuel Sanz/©ICEX
The sofrito is one of the keys to Spanish cuisine. This sauce, in which different vegetables are slowly cooked in olive oil - first chopped onion and/or garlic, then chopped tomatoes and in some cases peppers - is the inevitable starting-point for a huge repertoire of stews and other dishes that are popular all over Spain. And vegetables in their own right are the main participants in many other recipes that are very much a part of Spanish eating habits.
The sofrito symbolizes the profound Mediterranean and Roman roots of Spanish traditional cuisine. Garlic, onions, leeks, cabbage, lettuce, cardoons and other stalks, bulbs and tubers were grown in Roman vegetable gardens .
Nowadays, the climate and geographical diversity in Spain means that all the traditional Mediterranean species can be grown alongside many others which, over the centuries, have been brought here from the east and from the American Continent.
Garlic and Onions, Classic Ingredients
Garlic, onion and leek bulbs have been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean basin for over 4,000 years. They have always been attributed curative and therapeutic properties and are an essential ingredient in all popular cuisines. Amongst the most important of the Spanish garlic varieties are the Morados de Cuenca, which are grown in various parts of Castile-La Mancha and are covered by the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Ajo Morado de las Pedroñeras.
Onions of all types are grown all over Spain - red and white, scallions, pearl onions, and shallots. Calçots are white onion shoots which are covered with soil as they grow to keep them sweet and tender. They are typical of the Valls district of Tarragona (Catalonia), where this growing technique was discovered in the early 19th century. They are typically roasted over coals and served with a characteristic sauce similar to romesco, called salbitxada and made from roast tomatoes, almonds, roast garlic, ñoras (dried red peppers), olive oil, pimentón (a Spanish type of paprika), salt and vinegar. This traditional recipe has given rise to one of Catalonia's most popular gastronomic festivals, called Calçotada de Valls.
Artichokes and Asparagus
The vegetables which are flowers include a number of different broccoli and cauliflower varieties, but probably the favorite of all is the artichoke with its exquisite quality. The most important variety is the Blanca de Tudela, grown since the Middle Ages in the south and south-east of Navarre (in northern Spain). The artichokes are harvested in spring while they are still small and so tender than even the stem can be eaten. They are now covered by the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Alcachofa de Tudela. However, the main growing region in Spain is on the east coast, and those from Benicarló in the province of Castellón, of the same Blanca de Tudela variety, are recognized by a Designation of Origin.
In the area known as the Ribera de Navarra (southern Navarre), on the banks of the Ebro river, the best stalk vegetables can be found - cardoon, borage and especially asparagus - all of which grow to a very high standard of quality in this microclimate where winter is cold and spring mild. The white, purple and green Navarre asparagus in its various varieties is covered by the PGI Espárragos de Navarra. The Ribera de Navarra is one of the richest market garden areas in Spain, and its vegetable recipes - especially menestra (a vegetable medley) - are some of the most emblematic dishes in Navarran gastronomy.
Asparagus is also grown in other parts of Spain, the best-known being that from Aranjuez in the province of Madrid. In Andalusia, thePGI Huétor-Tájar (Granada), covers native breeds of green asparagus having a flavor similar to that of wild asparagus.
Peppers, Potatoes and Tomatoes
Crops include tubers such as beetroot and carrots, and leaf vegetables such as cabbage, collards, red cabbage, Swiss chard, turnip tops (a typical ingredient in Galician cuisine) as well as various types of lettuce, endives and escarole. Spinach was brought to Spain by the Moors as were eggplants, one of the most popular of the colorful fruit vegetables, together with cucumbers and pumpkin.
Finally, bringing with them a revolution in Mediterranean eating habits and those in many other parts of the world, three products that today are essential in the Spanish diet were taken from America to Europe in the Spanish galleons - tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. These prodigious products were to lead over the years to two dishes that are landmarks in Spanish cuisine - gazpacho and tortilla de patatas (potato omelet), not to mention pimentón, a type of Spanish paprika which is Spain's most characteristic flavoring.
Different varieties of the very versatile, and now universal, tomato are grown in Spain - plum tomatoes in the Canaries, cherry tomatoes and raf tomatoes in Almería, the latter in smaller quantities being the most exclusive of all.
Chilis and other peppers triumphed earlier in Spain than in other European countries. The former were compared to pepper but were cheaper and considered more flavorsome. Many varieties of pepper became acclimatized to Spain but today the most widely-consumed are the sweeter ones.
The fleshy, sweet red peppers from La Rioja and the green ones from Galicia are particularly popular. The latter include the Herbón variety - known as pimientos de Padrón - which are small and sometimes hot; also the larger, elongated and not very hot Arnoia, the medium-sized, very sweet O Couto, and the large, sweet Oimbra. Protected Designation of Origin status is in process for all of these. In the province of León in the region of Castile-Leon in northern Spain, the Pimientos Asados del Bierzo (roasted peppers) are covered by a Protected Geographical Indication.
Many other varieties are grown in other regions. Some are used only for canning such as Piquillo peppers, while others, such as Bola peppers and ñoras, are dried and crushed to make pimentón.
Little praise is needed for potatoes, which represent a gastronomic legacy for mankind. Spanish varieties include the very white, creamy potatoes from Galicia, and the smooth-skinned, very sweet and firm Prades potatoes from Tarragona (Catalonia). Other well-known varieties are those from Álava in the Basque Country and the Papa Bonita variety grown in the Canary Islands and used to make the typical papas arrugadas (potatoes cooked in their own skins and sprinkled with salt), which are served with traditional sauces called mojos.
List of food stores in Spain
List of food stores around the world
- Alcachofa de Benicarló PDO
- Alcachofa de Tudela PGI
- Espárrago de Huétor-Tájar PGI
- Espárrago de Navarra PGI
- Coliflor de Calahorra PGI
- Ajo Morado de Las Pedroñeras PGI
- Pemento da Arnoia PGI
- Pemento de Herbón PDO
- Pemento de Oímbra PGI
- Pimiento de Fresno-Benavente PGI
- Pimiento de Gernika PDO
- Pimiento de O Couto PDO
- Pimiento del Piquillo de Lodosa PDO
- Pimiento Riojano PGI
- Patata de Prades PGI
- Papas Antiguas de Canarias PDO
- Patata de Galicia PGI
- Calçot de Valls PGI
- Chufa de Valencia PDO
- Tomate de la Cañada-Níjar PGI
- Grelos de Galicia PGI
- Cabbage, cauliflower: 1st
- Tomato: 2nd
- Lettuce, chicory, endives: 1st
- Onions, garlic, leeks and other alliaceous vegetables: 4th
- Cucumbers, gherkins: 1st
- Carrots, beetroot, celery, radishes: 6th
- Other vegetables: 2nd
|Year||Volume (tons)||Value (thousands of €)|
27.86% (Source: Datacomex).
9,500 (includes all fresh fruits and vegetables)
Do you want to find Spanish fresh vegetable export companies? Take a look at our Spanish companies search engine.