Every spice cabinet in the world has a few of the same spices in it that are considered essential no matter what cuisine you are trying to cook. Amongst oregano, basil, and thyme, you will most definitely see paprika. The dark red color and smoky scent might have you think that it is a specialized spice with limited use, but, you would be incredibly wrong. Paprika is by far one of the most versatile spices available.

Red chili powder in metal spoon on white background. Top view with copy space for text.

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 that 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.

What is paprika used for?

Paprika is used for many things, but what it is most popular for is garnishing dishes such as deviled eggs. This is because egg dishes are normally quite pale, especially egg noodles, so adding this hint of red coloring which also has a nice deep flavor is very beneficial to the dish.

Aside from food coloring, sweet paprika is used liberally in meat rubs as it helps add a deep flavor and season meats such as pork chops, and steaks. Sweet Hungarian paprika can also be used in the iconic chicken paprikash, which is a delicious Hungarian meal. The same ingredient can also be found in a Hungarian goulash.

Smoked paprika is also used for a lot of recipes that want a smoked earthy flavor in the dish without complicating the balance of the spices. However, smoked paprika does come in different spice levels which can prove useful to a dish that calls for smoked paprika. Smoked paprika can also be added to a lot of spice blends and spice rubs to help balance out the spices with a touch of smoke.

Hot paprika is most commonly used to add some spice to a dish without overpowering it as a chili powder would. It can commonly be seen as one of the spices in a rub for chicken as it gives the meat a spicier flesh and works well with the flavor profile of the chicken.

What does paprika taste like?

Well as you can maybe guess by the various titles, each paprika has its taste in the title of it. However, that doesn’t explain the entire taste of the paprika as some of them have underlying tones.

Sweet paprika

Aside from obviously tasting a bit sweet, this is quite a mild paprika. Not just in spice, but in taste as well. The taste is quite subtle so it is mostly used as a base for spice rubs and spice blends. It is also used a lot to give a dish a nice spicy appearance without actually interfering with the flavor of the dish. This is commonly seen in restaurants as a dish will be spicy but needs to look more attractive so a chef will sprinkle some sweet paprika on it to give it the red hue of a spicy dish.

Hot paprika

Hot paprika is very spicy and is the spiciest type of paprika. It is commonly made with bonnet pepper to give it the spice levels that are desired. This heat is not the only flavor present, it also has the natural flavor of sweet paprika but it is more subtle and is not too easy to identify.

Smoked paprika

Smoked paprika has the most diverse flavor profile out of all the types of paprika. This is because it is made from sweet pepper that has been smoked over typically oak fires. This creates a deep and flavorsome smoky paprika that has arguably the best flavor out of any paprika recipes. The pepper used to make this paprika can be changed to a different one to make the end result spicier instead. This is commonly done to have a great smoked flavor with a spicy kick accompanying it. If you leave smoked paprika sitting in olive oil on the stove for a while, it will also flavor the oil and create a nice aroma that will pass on to your food.

How is paprika made?

Fresh paprika is very easily made as it only uses bell pepper or chili peppers as an ingredient. Red peppers and sweet peppers can be used in place of any pepper, as paprika is just the ground-up remains of a dehydrated pepper. Paprika is made by dehydrating a pepper until it is completely dry and then grinding the pepper up until it is a fine powder. Quality paprika comes from the pepper used, so it is best to use the right pepper for the type of paprika you are trying to make.

For example, using a green bell pepper for sweet paprika is good, but using a ripened orange bell pepper would result in even better-flavored paprika.

How to make homemade paprika

Making homemade paprika is insanely easy as all it takes is the process of dehydrating some peppers. The only things you will need are a dehydrator, bell, or any other peppers and an airtight container.

Firstly, it is crucial that you wash your peppers. Even if they are store-bought or grown at home, it should be natural instinct to wash ingredients like these before use. Once they are washed you are going to want to remove the core, seeds, and ribs from the inside, as these will not be needed you can discard them.

Once prepared, it is time to cut your peppers. They will all finish at the same time if they are all the same size. So if you have one, now is the time to use any cutting device that will evenly cut your peppers. If you do not have anything like this, then hand cut them and you will just have to leave the bigger pieces in the dehydrator for a little longer.

Once your peppers have been cut to strips or pieces, lay a piece of parchment paper on your dehydrator trays and put your peppers on top. They do not have to be spaced out, but avoid having them stack on one another. Now that they are in the dehydrator, turn it on to 125F and wait.

This process will take between 6-10 hours depending on the strength of your dehydrator and the humidity of your room. Once you think they are done, it is time to check them.

To check your peppers, leave them to get to room temperature and then try to bend them. If they snap clean then they are ready, if they bend even the slightest then they need to go back in the dehydrator for at least an hour.

Now that your peppers are dehydrated you need to condition them so that they are at the same humidity level as each other, for vegetables this is about 10%. TO do this, leave them in an airtight container and shake it twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. If there is any water residue on the peppers or the container then they need to be dehydrated some more. Keep repeating this process until the peppers have gone a week in the container without any water residue appearing.

After this week, the peppers are finally ready to be turned into paprika. This is just a case of using a herb grinder, coffee grinder, or blender to make the fine red powder that you commonly see. After they are blended, store them in an airtight container and use your homemade paprika whenever you want to.

So is paprika worth the try?

Paprika is a wonderful spice and should make an appearance in all of your favorite dishes if it suits them, The different types of paprika keep things new and fresh while also expanding the list of dishes that it can be used for. They all taste quite different and can range from being sweet and mild, smoky, or spicy.

Does paprika add any flavor?

Paprika can add flavor as long as it is spicy or smoked paprika. Sweet paprika has a flavor but it is very subtle so it will most likely go unnoticed.

How would you describe the taste of paprika?

The taste of paprika varies depending on the type of paprika you have. Hungarian paprika is very spicy, whereas smokey paprika obviously has a nice smokey flavor. Aside from that, the flavor can be described as deep and peppery.