When cooking with spices and herbs, it can always be difficult to understand which ones to use. Each spice and herb have their own unique flavors that can be used in some recipes but do not work in others. Chili powder is arguably one of the most well-known spices on the market, as is paprika. So how do they compare?

Colorful various herbs and spices for cooking on dark background

What is chili powder?

Chili powder is sort of a loose term as it is not a single type of chili. Oftentimes when someone mentions chili powder, it is a spice blend of red chili powder with cumin and garlic powder added to it. Some chili powders may also be titled after the chili they are made with, such as ground cayenne pepper and Kashmiri chili powder.

In the simplest explanation, chili powder is a mixture of chili peppers and other spices that are all finely ground together to make a light powder that is perfect for flavoring dishes. garnishing meals or being used as a meat rub. It is super easy to make your own homemade chili powder as long as you have the proper ingredients and something to grind them with.

What is chili powder made of?

Chili powder is commonly called red pepper, or red chili powder and is a mixture of several spices that are ground together. The chili part can vary but it is most commonly found to be ground cayenne peppers. As well as this, chili powder also has other flavorings in it that add an extra depth to the spice. These are ground cumin powder and garlic powder.

Can chili powders be used interchangeably?

For the most part, almost all chili powders can be interchanged with each other. The flavors may vary a tiny bit, as will the spice levels, but swapping a chili powder that is made from cayenne peppers with a chili powder made from a chili pepper will not ruin the dish. In this example, they can be very interchangeable and still compliment whatever dish you are using.

What is paprika?

Paprika is a spice made from ground sweet bell peppers. It is most recognized for its iconic vibrant red color, but this color can vary depending on the variety of paprika that it is. The color ranges from a bright-orange red color to a more deep blood-red color. The flavor also changes as some paprika can be sweet whereas others can be hot and spicy. There are three types of paprika that are all used very differently so it is important to make sure you buy the correct type from the grocery store.

Sweet paprika

This is the most common type of paprika and is usually just labeled as paprika. This spice has the most vibrant color out of the three types and works wonderfully as a garnish on deviled eggs. It can also be used in meat rubs for meats such as steak and pork. The flavor of this paprika is sweet and peppery but without any of the spice that usually comes with it. This makes it great for anyone who doesn’t like spice but wants a nice deep flavor. If a recipe does not specify the type of paprika you need to use, then chances are they are intending for you to use sweet paprika.

Most dishes that call for sweet paprika specifically can be interchanged, though. The sweet paprika provides a nice flavor with no heat, however, smoked paprika would be a suitable substitute in this case as it will provide all of the same flavors, but just enhance them and bring the meal up on the Scoville scale. It is best to be cautious when interchanging spices as sometimes sweet paprika is called upon to balance out the heat from other spices to make the dish a lot more well-rounded.

Hot paprika

Hot paprika, aka Hungarian paprika, is typically preferred by many compared to the other varieties. The reason it is called Hungarian is because in Hungarian cuisine this paprika is used as a primary source of flavor instead of being a garnish or afterthought. One of the most popular meals in Hungary is paprikash which is the use of hot paprika in a sweet with light meats and sour cream.

This paprika adds a peppery and spicy kick to any meals that it is in but also deepens any flavor that the dish may already have. Sweet paprika can be used as a substitute to give the same flavor without the heat but is it not recommended for smoked paprika to be interchanged as the flavors are completely different.

Smoked paprika

Smoked paprika is often referred to as pimenton, aka Spanish paprika. The main difference between this paprika and the sweet or spicy paprika is that the peppers used are smoked and dried using oak wood before being ground. This process is what gives the paprika its deep and smoky flavor. In supermarkets, it is typical to find this in three different spice levels ranging from mild to hot. Traditional Spanish pimenton is made in specific areas in Spain and requires exact ingredients to be used before it can be labeled as pimenton.

The paprika is still quite mild in spice unless you buy a specifically hot version. The smoky flavor is similar to that of charring a red pepper as the flavor is sweet and cool, but not hot. Smoked paprika is quite difficult to substitute with the other paprika as the flavors are completely different. You can make your own paprika easily if you smoke and dehydrate some bell peppers.

Can you swap chili powder and paprika?

As discussed, there are different varieties of both chili powder and paprika. Some are interchangeable while others are not. When it comes to ingredients, there is quite an overlap between the two. Paprika is used in chili powder as the main ingredient, and hot paprika can use cayenne peppers. because of this overlap, you can begin to think about how to swap the two. If a recipe calls for smoky paprika or sweet paprika then it is maybe not possible to swap it with chili powder as the flavors will be all wrong, and there will be some added heat.

On the other hand, if you are instructed to use hot paprika then it would be totally fine to interchange it with something like a red chili powder. The same does not apply to a savory dish that uses chili pepper, you can swap it out for hot paprika but if you were to use sweet paprika instead then you would be ruining the dish.

A lot of cuisines that use spicy food can have paprika and chili in them at the same time. Indian dishes use a lot of each ingredient to get a deeper flavor.

Other substitutes for chili powder include:

  • Cayenne pepper
  • Fresh chilies and dried oregano
  • Hot sauce
  • Cajun seasoning
  • Ancho powder
  • Chipotle seasoning
  • Fajiti seasoning

How to make your own paprika

After this, you may be wanting to make your own paprika. Thankfully a lot of paprika is just bell peppers in a powdered form. Bell peppers are prone to rotting if you leave them to dry but this is avoided if you have a dehydrator. The simplest way to get homemade paprika is to put some washed and sliced bell peppers in a dehydrator for 6-10 hours at 125F until they snap when you try to bend them.

Once your bell peppers are dehydrated it is time to put them in a herb grinder, coffee grinder, or blender to make it a powder. Once the bell peppers are dried and ground you technically have paprika. You can mix it with cayenne pepper to increase the heat of it, or instead you can smoke the bell peppers first to give your homemade paprika a smoky flavor. This is surprisingly easy but due to the dehydration process, it can take some time. So maybe it is best to use some paprika substitutes once you have ran out.

How to make your own chili powder

Chili powder is a lot like paprika when it comes to making it at home. The main ingredients are dried and ground cumin and garlic. Other than this any dried chilis will work, it is best that you decide what chilis to use as only you know how much spice ou can handle.

red and white heart shaped decor

Once you have decided what chili to use, you are going to want to wash it and then dehydrate it. This can be done using a dehydrator at 125F for 6-10 hours. You’ll know it is done once the chili snaps in half when you try to bend it. Once you have your chili in a dried form you can grind it using a herb grinder, coffee grinder, or a blender. The powder that comes from this is what you will be mixing with the other ingredients. If you want the cumin and garlic to prevail then add more of those, but a simple mix of 2 parts chili powder to 1 part of garlic and cumin will be a good starting point. Once you are happy with the product, store it in an airtight container on your spice rack and use it whenever you please.

Which is better?

As a summary, most of the ingredients in both paprika and chili powder are the same. This does not mean all of them are interchangable as it depends on what the dish is calling for. As for comparing them, neither is better than the other. Paprika is great for some dishes and bad for others, and the same goes for chili powder. It all depends on if the dish is calling for a smoky, sweet or spicy flavor profile. This means that hot paprika and chili powder are interchangeable, but smoky paprika and chili powder are not.

Can you substitude chili powder for paprika?

Yes, as long as it does not ruin the flavor of the dish. If you want to swap a hot paprika with chili powder then it will be fine but swapping a smoky paprika with chili powder can complicate the dish and throw the spices off balance.

What can be used instead of paprika?

Chili powder can be used in place of hot paprika, but if a recipe calls for either smoky or sweet paprika then chili powder will not work.