A Simple Paprika Primer

Brooke Newberry
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What exactly is paprika? Dried and ground capsicums, either of the bell pepper or chili pepper variety. The spices seen at the grocery store simply labeled “paprika” are most likely a mixture of Hungarian, South American or Californian paprikas. These will have a medium heat level, relatively neutral flavor, and are regularly used as garnish for color (think deviled eggs). The best stuff to buy, depending on preference and recipe, are the more palatable Hungarian and Spanish paprikas.  Paprika isn’t a dish-defining spice, but it is an essential staple for deepening and warming flavors in a variety of dishes. 

Hungarian Sweet Paprika

Paprika is basically the spice mascot of Hungary and is in charge of the country’s famed dish, goulash. All Hungarian paprikas are slowly sun-dried and ground, have a rich red pepper flavor, and range in bite and heat. There are actually eight grades of the Hungarian spice, but “Hungarian Sweet Paprika” is the most common Hungarian variety in the U.S and is a sweeter, milder paprika that adds a fruity nuance and develops flavor in a dish. 

Spanish Smoked Paprika

Also identified as Spanish paprika, pimenton or smoked pimenton, smoked paprika is a Spanish innovation characterized by its deep red color and potent aromas.  The peppers in Spanish paprika have been slowly smoked over a fire, and range in flavor and heat from incredibly mild and sweet to a spicy “picante.”  Smoked paprika is consistently smoky, woodsy, and imparts major flavor without any harsh heat, unless labeled as such. 


If a recipe simply calls for “paprika,” assess the situation.  Is there a need for sweetness to balance flavors, smokiness for richness, or a demand for a little extra heat?  While sweet paprika will work in any recipe calling for paprika, we find that the smoked variety adds just a touch more depth. Paprika can be incorporated into almost any recipe.  Add in sausages, paellas, stews, dry rubs for grilling, barbecue sauces, popcorn, egg dishes, roasted vegetables, savory shortbreads and chilis.  Smoked paprika has this meaty nuance, reminiscent of crispy cooked bacon. Remember to take it easy with the smoked variety – a little goes a long way. 

Paprika should last about two to three years in your pantry before it loses potency. Make sure to sniff and replace if aromas are dull and flavors are chalky.  

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