If you thought paprika was just paprika, we’ve got news for you. This versatile spice is actually made from dried, ground peppers, and just like the peppers themselves it comes in a range of flavours, from mild and sweet to fiery and hot. All paprika varieties are descended from wild plants in North America, but these were subsequently introduced to the Old World through Spain before expanding to Africa, Asia and Central Europe. Rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, paprika is thought to promote healthy vision, reduce inflammation and improve your cholesterol levels. Pick your perfect paprika with our guide to the different types.
Sweet paprika vs regular paprika
Regular or plain paprika has very little flavour, and is mainly used as a garnish due to its attractive orange-red colour. Sweet paprika, as the name suggests, has a noticeably sweeter, slightly fruity flavour, with a hint of pepperiness.
Confusingly, sweet paprika is the more commonly-available type of paprika, and if you buy a spice that is simply labelled ‘paprika’ it is most likely sweet paprika. Similarly, recipes that call for paprika usually mean sweet paprika. You can buy sweet paprika that is specifically labelled as such, however, so if you want to be sure you’re getting the sweet stuff, it’s best to opt for this.
Sweet paprika pairs well with both earthy and tangy flavours, and adds a subtle sweetness to spice mixes that balances out the punchier flavours. Use it in meat rubs, or with chicken, hummus, potatoes or eggs.
Sweet paprika vs hot paprika
Sweet paprika is made using sweet peppers, while hot paprika is made using spicier peppers, and includes more of the inner pith, where most of the heat is concentrated. It tends to be less flavourful than sweet paprika, but what it lacks in flavour, it makes up for in spice. Just as peppers come in varying levels of spiciness, hot paprika can range from mildly spicy to packing some serious heat. Use it in Southern-style spice mixes, or to add an extra kick to dishes where you would normally use sweet paprika.
Sweet paprika vs hot paprika vs smoked paprika
Smoked paprika is made by smoking the peppers as they dry to add a delicious smoky flavour. It can be made using sweet peppers or spicy peppers, and is used to add a smoky flavour to dishes without actually smoking them. It tastes great with beans, and is often paired with salt to add a meat-free bacon flavour to vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Paprika is hugely popular in Hungary, and sits alongside the salt and pepper on most Hungarian dinner tables. It is an important ingredient in many of Hungary’s most popular and iconic dishes, including goulash, chicken paprikash, and halászlé, or fisherman’s soup. Find out more about one of the stars of Hungarian cuisine, including how to make your own, with our guide to Hungarian goulash.
Hungarian paprika is made using blends of different varieties of pepper. There are eight different grades, which are sorted according to sweetness, heat levels and coarseness. There are some hotter grades, known as csipős or erős, but sweeter, more flavourful paprika is more commonly used. The grade that is most often exported to other countries is édesnemes, a rich, peppery, sweet paprika with a bright red colour.
Pimentón is a variety of smoked paprika from Spain, sometimes known as Spanish paprika. It is made by smoking the peppers over an oak fire, and is available in dulce (sweet), agrodulce (bittersweet), or picante (hot). It is found in all your favourite Spanish dishes, including paella, chorizo and tapas essential patatas bravas.
Alternatives to paprika
If you don’t have any paprika to hand, here are the best substitutes to use in a pinch.
Cayenne is another spice made from ground pepper, and it has a similar red colour to paprika. It is far hotter than paprika, however, and you will only need about half, or even a third as much. Try adding a little honey or sugar to recreate the sweetness of paprika.
Chilli powder is another pepper-based spice, with a similar fiery colour. Again, it is hotter than paprika, and the chilli is often mixed with other spices like cumin and garlic, so the flavour may differ more than you’d expect. Try adding a little tomato juice for an earthier, sweeter flavour.
Chilli flakes are not mixed with other spices, so they are a little closer to paprika in flavour, as well as being a reasonable colour match. They do have a different texture to paprika, however, and as with chilli powder, they tend to be spicier. Substitute 1 tsp of paprika for ⅓ tsp chilli flakes for a similar spice level.
Cajun spice is a blend of many different herbs and spices, and often includes paprika, along with other seasonings such as garlic powder, salt, pepper, onion powder, cayenne, oregano and thyme.
Hot sauce is made using chilli peppers, so will have a similar flavour to paprika, although it will not colour the food in the same way. Hot sauces come in different strengths, and can be far hotter than paprika. A milder Tabasco is a good match for hot paprika.
Chipotle is a moderately spicy chilli, with a smoky, sweet flavour, making it a good match for both sweet and smoky paprikas. It will still be a little spicier than a sweet paprika, but nothing too overpowering.
If you want to put your new paprika knowledge to use in the kitchen, try this delicious ktipiti recipe, a Greek dip made with salty feta cheese, charred red peppers and a pinch of that all-important paprika.
Paprika is so versatile and easy to use, why not use it to add another layer of flavour to simple recipes such as these bread croutons for salads and stuffing? It also makes the perfect foil to creamy fish dishes and is used in both its sweet and hot versions in this fisherman’s soup recipe created by chef Levente Koppány. Last but not least, these paprika-coated roast walnuts make a great snack and are ideal for adding extra flavour to salads and soups.