What is paprika, and how is it made? (Recipe included)


You probably have paprika in your pantry, but you may wonder: What actually is it? Read on to learn everything you need to know about paprika, plus how to make it!

What is paprika made of?

Paprika, a vibrant and flavorful spice, is derived from a particular variety of mild red pepper known as the paprika pepper. These peppers are primarily cultivated in Hungary and Spain, and their cultivation has also spread to the United States. Making paprika powder involves using paprika peppers as the main ingredient. However, it is worth noting that some paprika products may contain additional additives, such as silicon dioxide, which prevents the powder from clumping together, ensuring its quality and texture.

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Is paprika spicy?

Paprika, while it does possess some level of spiciness, is generally not considered significantly hot by most individuals. Similar to other chili peppers, the spiciness of paprika can vary depending on the specific type of pepper and even among peppers of the same variety. 

For instance, Alma paprika peppers typically range from 2,000 to 3,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), considerably milder than jalapeños. 

Hungarian and Spanish paprikas are often categorized based on their spice levels, offering options for milder or hotter varieties based on personal preference. The paprika commonly available in the United States falls within the mid-range of Hungarian paprika in terms of heat, measuring around 100 to 500 SHU. This heat level is typically so subtle that it is nearly imperceptible as spicy for most people.

Paprika vs. smoked paprika

When it comes to paprika and smoked paprika, the main distinction lies in their preparation methods. “Regular” paprika is made by drying the peppers, whereas smoked paprika undergoes an additional step of being smoked. In the absence of any specific instructions in your recipe, it is advisable to use non-smoked sweet paprika.

Smoked paprika obtains its distinct flavor by being smoked with oak. This process imparts a deep, robust, rich taste reminiscent of grilled flavors. It adds a unique dimension to dishes, enhancing their overall profile and creating a smoky undertone.

Spanish vs. Hungarian paprika

Some notable differences can be observed when comparing Spanish paprika to Hungarian paprika. Spanish paprika tends to have a sweeter taste profile, while Hungarian paprika is renowned for its enhanced flavor. In Hungary, paprika is classified into eight categories based on varying sweetness and spiciness levels.

The Hungarian paprika categories are as follows:

  1. Különleges: This category represents the sweetest and mildest version of paprika.
  2. Csípősmentes csemege
  3. Csemege paprika
  4. Csípős csemege
  5. Édesnemes: Comparable to American paprika in terms of heat.
  6. Félédes
  7. Rózsa
  8. Erős: This category denotes the hottest variation of paprika, with a color closer to light brown than vibrant red.

On the other hand, Spanish paprika is divided into three categories:

  1. Dulce: The sweetest and mildest variety of Spanish paprika.
  2. Agridulce: Less sweet with a medium level of heat.
  3. Picante: Hot and spicier in nature.

The flavor and heat level of Spanish and Hungarian paprika ultimately depend on the specific type of peppers used and whether the seeds and pith (the white membranes inside the pepper) are removed during the processing stage.

What does paprika powder taste like?

Paprika powder exhibits a delicate balance of flavors, encompassing a mild sweetness, subtle spiciness, and a potential smokiness if you opt for the smoked variety. The smoky taste in smoked paprika is often attributed to using oak during the smoking process, lending it a deep, rich, and almost grilled flavor profile.

In addition to its primary taste characteristics, paprika can offer other flavor notes that might be discerned. These include hints of earthiness, a touch of bitterness, and a vegetative quality, which collectively contribute to the overall complexity of its taste.

How is paprika made?

Paprika is made from ripe paprika peppers that undergo a drying or smoking process before being ground into a fine powder. There are several methods for drying the peppers, such as hang drying, sun drying, using a dehydrator, or employing an oven. Once the peppers are completely dried, they can be transformed into paprika powder.

Here’s a simple paprika powder recipe:

Red paprika powder in wooden bowl and scoop

Homemade paprika powder

This is a mild and versatile chili powder that can be used in sauces, soups, rubs, and to top deviled eggs at your next party!


  • Ripe paprika peppers dried


  • Optionally, remove the seeds and pith from the dried peppers. Note that leaving them intact will result in a slightly spicier powder, but it may require extra effort during grinding
  • Grind the dried chili peppers using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder until you achieve a fine texture
  • For a smoother consistency, sift the ground paprika through a fine mesh sieve, eliminating any coarse particles
  • Store the homemade paprika powder in an airtight container in a cool, dry place

Can you make paprika out of other ground chili peppers?

While it is possible to mix paprika with other chili peppers like cayenne, it’s important to note that using different types of peppers will result in a distinct flavor profile, deviating from the unique characteristics of paprika. Consequently, the resulting powder would be classified as a different type of ground pepper powder rather than genuine paprika. The distinct flavor and qualities of paprika are primarily derived from the specific paprika pepper variety, making it difficult to replicate its exact taste with alternative chili peppers.

How is paprika used?

Paprika finds wide application in Hungarian and Spanish cuisines, lending its distinct flavor and vibrant color to various dishes. Here are some common uses and culinary traditions associated with paprika:

Hungarian cuisine:

  • Goulash: Paprika is a key ingredient in the traditional Hungarian dish called goulash, which adds depth of flavor and rich color.
  • Spice Blends and Rubs: Paprika is commonly used in Hungarian sauces, seasonings, spice blends, and rubs for meats, enhancing their taste profiles.

Spanish cuisine:

  • Paprika plays a crucial role in Spanish sausages, such as Chorizo, infusing it with its characteristic smokiness.
  • Additionally, it is a fundamental ingredient in paella, a renowned Spanish rice dish.

Other uses:

  • Paprika is an essential component of baharat, an aromatic Arabic seasoning blend, contributing to its flavor complexity
  • Paprika is often used as a colorful topping for deviled eggs, adding both visual appeal and a hint of flavor.
  • With its vivid red hue, paprika imparts an eye-catching vibrancy to any dish it is incorporated into, making it visually enticing.

When using paprika in your recipes, adding it near the end of the cooking process is advisable. Unlike certain spices that benefit from being fried in hot oil, paprika contains a higher sugar content, making it prone to burning quickly. Adding it towards the end can preserve its delicate flavors and prevent any bitter notes that may arise from overcooking.

Paprika substitutes

If you find yourself without paprika, there are a few options for suitable substitutes that can still enhance the flavors in your dish. Consider the following alternatives:

  1. Red bell pepper powder: Red bell pepper powder can be used as a substitute for paprika for a mild spice level and a similar flavor profile characterized by sweetness. It offers a gentle, subtle taste that can complement various recipes.
  2. Cayenne pepper: If you desire a substitute that provides a similar flavor but with more heat, cayenne pepper is an excellent choice. Be mindful of its spiciness; it is considerably hotter than regular paprika. Adjust the quantity according to your preferred level of spiciness.
  3. Chipotle or ancho powder: Chipotle or ancho powder can serve as alternatives when seeking a replacement for smoked paprika. While they impart a similar smoky flavor, it’s important to note that they have distinct taste profiles. These substitutes can still infuse your dishes with a delightful smokiness, albeit with their unique nuances.

Remember, when using substitutes, the resulting flavor may vary slightly from the original recipe. Adjustments may be necessary to achieve the desired taste, but these alternatives can provide a similar essence in your culinary creations when paprika is unavailable.

Whether you choose to use store-bought paprika or embark on the adventure of making your own, this spice’s rich and complex taste is sure to elevate your culinary creations. 

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