What is Paprika?


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Many would argue that paprika is just as essential to your kitchen as salt and pepper. Here’s the lowdown on this popular spice.

What is Paprika?

Oh, paprika! It’s a handy spice to have in your cabinet because of its rich flavor. Its characteristic red color comes from a variety of red peppers, Capsicum annuum, which includes red peppers, bell pepper, and chili peppers. As the national spice of Hungary where there are actually eight different grades that vary in heat and flavor, paprika is known for its infamous role in cooking goulash. However, this bright red spice has a home in many other recipes.

You’ll see it sprinkled over deviled eggs, it adds awesome flavor to dry rubs, and it punches up soups and stews. It’s made by drying and grounding peppers — sometimes sweet peppers and sometimes spicy peppers. That’s why there are different categories of this staple spice.

Types of paprika

You can buy sweet, spicy, and smoked paprika at most major markets, or on Amazon (affiliate link). You can use sweet for a more subtle flavor, and spicy paprika for a big kick of heat. If you have sweet on hand, add some cayenne pepper to make it spicier. Smoked paprika adds a noticeable charred note, which is lovely in barbecued dishes or ones made on the stovetop to add depth.  Just consider whether the dish you’re making would pair well with a smoky flavor profile.

Sweet paprika

Sweet paprika

When you see a spice jar labeled as just “paprika” that’s generally on the sweet side. It’s the most mild paprikas and very versatile from Hungarian cuisines, found in spice rubs and sauces, chilis, or braises like pulled pork.

Spicy paprika

Spicy paprika

Spicy or hot paprika is just that, but you might also see it called Hungarian paprika or Pimentón picante for Spanish type. It can have a mix of chile peppers, like cayenne. Buy with caution if you don’t like heat; it comes with a kick.

Smoked paprika

Smoked paprika

Lastly, there’s smoked paprika which is also known as Pimentón de la Vera or Pimentón ahumado picante for the Spanish type. The peppers are dried over fires to produce its classic smoky flavor before they are ground up. Chili’s, stews, barbecue sauces, and spice mixes are the perfect way to incorporate the unique flavor without having to fire up the grill or enhance the flavor of the natural smoke when cooking.

Health benefits

Paprika contains carotenoids which are a family of antioxidants that help prevent disease. One tablespoon of paprika contains 100 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A as a result of beta carotene, just one of the carotenoids it contains.

How to purchase and store

The first rule to purchasing paprika it to be cautious of how much heat you want. It may be good to have a spicy variety and a not-so-spicy variety on hand. You can buy it bottled or in bulk, in which case you’ll want to store it in a container with an airtight lid. In either case, keep it in a dark cabinet away from heat and sunlight.

Cooking with paprika

You’ll get the most flavor out of paprika when it’s heated in olive oil, broths, or other cooking liquids — though you can use it as a garnish fresh over deviled eggs and eggs benedict. Use it in dry rubs for meat. You can use it when making a glaze. Be careful when using in over high heat in pan searing because the spice can burn.

It pairs surprisingly well with sweet ingredients like molasses, which is why I use it in this glazed salmon recipe. I also like to use paprika in meatloaf and for seasoning my chicken tortilla soup.

Cooking with paprika

Recipes that use paprika

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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5 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Russ says

    I’m wondering, is it possible for one NOT to be able to taste regular sweet Hungarian-style paprika? I taste smoke in smoked paprika and heat in half-sharp paprika, but nothing at all with regular. I’ve found it to be almost worthless, except for aesthetics. I’ve purchased it from good spice sources (Spice House, Penzeys), but nothing. Zilch.

  2. Cheryl Gafner says

    I am SO delighted to have found you Jessica!

    I am enamored with your meatloaf recipe.

    Thank YOU!!!


  3. KP says

    Right on, Jessica!
    Just back from Hungary, got my supply of the best paprika.
    Don’t forget scrambled eggs! Awesome!