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Behind the Seasoning: Paprika - What is it? Uses & Recipes

Beef Paprikash over egg noodles
Too many home cooks aren't aware of the unmatched flavor potential of paprika. Let's set the record straight on what paprika is and why it's so great.

Many people have a jar of red powder they don't know what to do with (except sprinkle it on deviled eggs and potato salad). Paprika possesses unmatched flavor, and too many people just aren't aware of its potential.

What is Paprika?

Paprika might be one of the most well-known and least-understood spices in America. We've even been asked if it has a flavor. (It does, at least if it's fresh). So, what is it? You might be surprised to know that paprika is chile powder. It comes from sweet and mild chiles, similar to red bell peppers. The different types come from different varieties, and flavors can be determined by what's known in wine circles as terroir, or the taste that comes from the environment and climate.

  • Hungarian Paprika - We carry a Kulonleges paprika, which bears the name Csemege (meaning exquisite delicacy) and is one of the highest grades available. This is the flavor and variety that is most familiar to many Americans. It has a lingering warmth that makes it a great addition to many dishes and is ideal for use in all-purpose seasonings.
  • California Paprika - Our California paprika comes from a hybrid pepper indigenous to California. The bold color and flavor make California paprika perfect for Southwestern dishes and seasonings like chili powder. It's also a great paprika for creating your own barbeque rub or sauce.
  • Sweet Smoked Spanish Paprika - Also known as Pimenton de la Vera dulce, the peppers used to make this paprika are smoked over oak before being ground, imparting a rich smokiness. This paprika is perfect for adding a smoky flavor to various dishes and can impart that distinctive flavor when smoking isn't an option. 
  • Hot Smoked Spanish Paprika - This paprika is a reddish-brown color with a smoky and slightly sharp scent. It is the perfect spice for anyone who always wants a bit more heat with an exciting flavor and is willing to stray from staples like cayenne. With a taste similar to chorizo, it can replicate that rich, spicy flavor in vegetarian dishes.

 Buy Paprika with spoon of paprika on right

Does Paprika Have A Taste?

Often overlooked and under-appreciated, few know the true flavor potential of fresh paprika. As with many spices, paprika will lose its flavor over time. A good rule of thumb is to take a quick sniff; if it doesn't smell like anything, it won't taste like anything. Time for a fresh jar!

Paprika is made by grinding dried red (fully matured) peppers into a fine powder. The peppers range from little to no heat (like a bell pepper) to quite hot (like cayenne). Depending on the varieties of peppers used and the region they come from, paprika's flavor profile and color can vary. Regardless of the type or variety, quality paprika means bold, delicious flavor.

Five jars with paprika spilling out and a blank circle in the middle

What is the Flavor of Paprika?

Hungarian Paprika is typically a rusty-reddish color and has a fragrant sweet pepper odor. The flavor is sweet and slightly fruity with very mild heat, similar to fresh bell peppers.

California Paprika has a vibrant red color and a bold scent. The flavor is a bit sweet but packs a punch, with a more noticeable heat and a slight bitterness when compared with Hungarian paprika. There is a lingering, slightly peppery aftertaste as well.

Sweet Smoked Spanish Paprika is a deep red, and the fragrance is deliciously smoky. While you can still taste the sweet, mild flavor of the paprika, the smoky flavor is dominant. The smoke flavor lingers with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

What Does Paprika Do To Food?

If you've ever been to a potluck or barbecue, you probably know that paprika can be used as a garnish to add color to food. But fresh paprika can do so much more. It's a primary ingredient in many barbecue rubs and can add sweet, warm flavor to sauces found in many cuisines, including Hungarian and Spanish dishes.

Is Paprika Spicy?

Like with chile peppers, it depends. Some varieties are, and some aren't. The types mentioned above are quite mild, but we have two options for people who are looking for more heat.

Hot Smoked Spanish Paprika has a slight sweetness immediately, but that quickly gives way to a burning heat. The smoky taste stays noticeable throughout, so smoke and spice continually meld into a unique, hot flavor. The flavors of this paprika are similar to chorizo, and you'll notice that spicy, tingling sensation on your tongue.

Hungarian Sweet & Spicy Paprika was created for heat lovers. This isn't a single variety of paprika but a blend of sweet Hungarian paprika and spicy cayenne pepper. So you'll get the depth of flavor Hungarian Paprika imparts and the sharp heat from Cayenne Pepper.

What is Paprika Used For?

Paprika is perhaps most notably used in Hungarian cuisine. In fact, in Hungary, some families keep shakers of salt and paprika (instead of black pepper) on their dinner tables. Try our classic Beef Paprikash (Hungarian Goulash) recipe for a traditional use of Hungarian paprika.

What is Paprika Good For?

For those who create their own rubs and seasonings, paprika is a building block for a well-rounded and flavorful spice blend. In fact, paprika is the unsung hero in many seasonings across almost all categories of cuisine. Paprika plays a major role in American seasonings like Cajun Style Blackening Seasoning and in many BBQ blends. It is also a key ingredient in everything from Tan-Tan Moroccan Seasoning to Family Style Fajita Seasoning and Indian Tandoori Seasoning to Japanese Shichimi Togarashi. The possibilities for paprika in a spice blend are limited only by the imagination.

How to Use Paprika

Paprika can be used throughout the cooking process, from marinating or seasoning before cooking to a garnish before serving. How you use it and when you add it will depend on the dish or recipe. As a rub or marinade, you'll use it before cooking. When used in sauces or stews, it will be added during the cooking process. And it can be used as a seasoning for a finished dish (like the ever-popular deviled eggs!)

How Much Paprika to Use

While the flavor of paprika is mild and sweet, it can be bitter when used too heavily. How much is too much will depend on the dish and the other ingredients that you're using. The fat in both dairy and meat can balance the natural bitterness, but if you're omitting one or both, you may find that you've used too much paprika. Like anything, it's a matter of taste – so taste your dish and decide if you need more. If you find that you've used too much paprika, try these helpful tips

Uses For Smoked Paprika

Smoked paprika can be used to add the distinctive flavor of smoke or grilling when fire just isn’t an option. Adding smoked paprika to BBQ rubs will impart smoked flavor even if you’re not grilling over charcoal or smoking. If you enjoyed smoked salts or smoke flavoring, you can always use smoked paprika in place or in addition to your regular seasonings. Smoked Paprika uses include adding it to barbecue sauces, stirring it into baked beans, or sprinkling over roasted potatoes.

Are there Health Benefits of Paprika?

We focus on the culinary benefits but, because paprika comes from chiles, which are the fruit of the plant, it does contain many naturally occurring vitamins and macronutrients

Pile of paprika with a white heart in the middle

Where & How to Buy Paprika?

Savory Spice carries a few different types of paprika. The kinds of paprika we have are the most common in the United States, but if you travel to European countries, you will find many more varieties. For the most part, they can be used interchangeably, so trying each one is the best way to find your favorite flavor. Who knows, you might love them all! 

Buy Sweet Paprika

Hungarian PaprikaThis familiar flavor is sweet and mild. This high-quality paprika is ideal for use in a wide range of dishes and cuisines. 

California Paprika - This bold paprika is perfect for making your own barbecue rubs or seasonings and for use in Southwestern dishes.

Buy Smoked Paprika

Sweet Smoked Spanish Paprika – The peppers used to make this paprika are smoked, so the flavor is natural, with no additives. This paprika is perfect for adding a smoky flavor to various dishes. 

Hot Smoked Spanish Paprika - This paprika is reddish-brown with a smoky and slightly sharp scent. It's perfect for anyone who always wants a bit more heat.

Buy Spicy Paprika

Hungarian Sweet & Spicy Paprika – This paprika is a blend of Hungarian paprika and cayenne pepper; hence, sweet & spicy.

What Flavors Go With Paprika?

We’ve already mentioned that paprika is great for creating a variety of seasonings. This means that it pairs well with almost any other spice. You’ll often find paprika used in spice rubs with salt, sugar, many other spices:

  • Pepper - The sweetness of paprika is a great complement to black or white pepper.
  • Garlic - Sharp and pungent garlic adds balance to the fruity notes of paprika.
  • Onion - Aromatic onion adds depth to the rich taste of any kind of paprika. Use toasted onion to play up the sweetness.
  • Mustard - Forget ketchup and mustard, paprika and mustard are key when it comes to creating a great BBQ flavor.
  • Cumin - Earthy cumin pairs perfectly with the warm flavors of any paprika.
  • Coriander - The citrusy notes of coriander are a natural blend with the slight fruitiness of paprika.

Four piles of spices in a semi-circle

Just like chile peppers are used in most global cuisines, paprika is also incredibly versatile and popular. It will add great flavor and color to any tomato-based sauce or dish. Perhaps the most well-known dish that features paprika is Paprikash or Hungarian Goulash. But it can also add a bold sweetness to Mediterranean-inspired dishes like Smoky Gazpacho or Mexican dishes like Tortilla Soup.

What Can You Use Instead of Paprika?

First of all, different types of paprika can be used interchangeably. So if your recipe calls for Hungarian Paprika and all you have is California Paprika, no problem!

If you’re looking for other spices to substitute for paprika, first, look at your recipe. Is it a BBQ recipe? If so, use your favorite BBQ rub. In a Southwestern recipe, chili powder could be a good substitute.

You can also use mild chilis instead. Pureed roasted red peppers would be a great paprika substitute in sauces (just reduce the liquid a bit). If your making a rub or seasoning, you could try Ancho Chili Powder as it is also super mild and won’t change the heat level. It is more raisin-like in flavor and not quite as bright as paprika, so it will alter the taste a bit.

Can You Use Paprika Instead of Cumin?

Not really. Better substitutes for cumin include caraway seed (as the two are related), coriander (which is often used in combination with cumin), and chili powder (as cumin is a primary ingredient in chili powder).

Can You Use Paprika Instead of Chili Powder?

Not really. At least, not by itself. Key ingredients in chili powder also include garlic, cumin, and Mexican oregano. But can you use paprika (especially smoked paprika) with garlic, cumin and Mexican oregano to replicate chili powder in a pinch, sure!

Recipes Using Paprika

We’ve already mentioned Beef Paprikash but you can also try Chicken Paprika or Paprikas Csirke (in Hungarian) which is one of the most popular Hungarian dishes. Take a cue from Hungary and add paprika to stews, like Brunswick Stew with Shredded Chicken, or soups like this Turkish Red Lentil Soup. Paprika is incredibly versatile and can easily become your go-to spice for a variety of dishes – both in cooking and as a seasoning.

What Do You Put Paprika On?

You might already be sprinkling paprika on your potato salad or deviled eggs and there's absolutely no shame in that game. But, if you want to use it a little more often, here are a few places to start.

  • Make a seasoningSonoma Sunny Sea Salt Sprinkle is a mix of salt, paprika, lemon, fennel, and coriander creates a balanced citrusy, earthy seasoning for roasted veggies, chips, and more.
  • Add flavor to cheese crisps (like this recipe) - Just sprinkle your favorite paprika on top for a hint of sweet chile flavor.
  • Spice up breading for chicken - Lemon Dill Orzo with Paprika Crusted Chicken uses a little bit of paprika and other spices to add flavor to breadcrumbs for chicken.

Paprika Uses In Cooking

  • Hot Wing Chile Glaze - When you’re making a wing sauce, paprika can be a great way to manage the heat level.
  • BBQ Chicken Slow Cooker Sloppy Joes – This family favorite includes a recipe for homemade BBQ sauce, featuring paprika. Try adding paprika to your favorite BBQ sauce recipe.
  • Black Onyx Chocolate Truffles – Chocolate and chiles are a great flavor pairing and paprika is a mild chile. So what might sound odd is actually a natural pairing. Try paprika (we prefer unsmoked in this case) in chocolatey desserts.
Photo of BLT sandwich with vegan bacon sauce

Recipes That Use Smoked Paprika

  • Vegan Bacon Sauce - This might sound a little crazy, but this is the condiment you've been missing (yes, even if you're a real bacon eater). The smoky flavor makes a tasty spread for sandwiches, sauce for vegetables, or even a dip for fries.
  • Romesco Sauce – While not a traditional ingredient, smoked paprika accents the flavor of roasted red peppers in this classic sauce that’s great for grilled veggies, chicken, and fish.
  • Slow Cooker Bourbon BBQ Beans – Used in combination with your favorite BBQ rub, smoked paprika accents the barbecue flavor in this essential side dish.
  • Smoky Kale Salad - Slightly bitter kale is offset by smoky paprika, tangy vinegar, and sweet peaches or apples. It's a great quick weekday dinner or as a side with anything you're grilling.

Share your favorite ways to use paprika and tag us on Instagram (@savoryspiceshop). Find more Essential Spices for Any Kitchen or shop our collection of Chiles & Paprika.

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