Cooking TipsSubstitutionsThe Lowdown on Paprika: Types, and Substitutes

The Lowdown on Paprika: Types, and Substitutes

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David Larsen
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It’s important to remember that paprika—ground sweet pepper pods that come in red powder form—comes in three forms instead of just one.

Therefore, when a recipe asks for hot or smoked paprika, don’t use regular paprika. There are different varieties available that do make a difference.

best paprika substitutes

What Is Paprika?

In its simplest form, paprika is sweet pepper pods that have been grounded to an iconic brightly red or orangey powder. The color range of paprika ranges from a bright orange-red or rusty color to a deep blood-red to crimson hue. 

Its taste can range from mild and sweet to hot and bitter. The taste variations depend on the type of paprika and how it’s been made.

Types of Paprika

Here are the 3 types of paprika.

1. Regular Paprika

regular paprika

Also known as basic paprika, this most generic paprika form is commonly found in grocery spice aisles. It’s the most common paprika form that uses peppers from South America, California, Hungary, and so forth. 

It’s characterized by its mildness and sweetness. It has strong notes of hot sweetness that make it an ideal garnish for dishes like potato salad, hummus, and deviled eggs.

2. Hungarian Paprika

hungarian paprika

Also known as hot paprika, it’s the Hungarian national spice. It’s used in many Hungarian dishes. It’s further divided into 8 types of Hungarian paprika. They’re separated in accordance to their hotness and flavor.

It’s commonly exported as Edesnemes or Noble Sweet, which is a bright-red, partly pungent paprika. Other hot paprika variants include special, strong, semi-sweet, rose, and delicate quality.

3. Spanish Paprika

spainish paprika

This paprika from Spain also known as smoke paprika, smoky paprika, or pimenton. This is further divided into three varieties. There’s mild, mildly spicy, and spicy. They’re universally characterized by their smoky flavor.

This smokiness roots from the fact that the chili peppers have been dried over oak fires. This is known as pimenton de la vera. This infuses this smoky “barbecue” flavor unto the Spanish paprika. 

Other pimenton use kiln-dried or sun-dried peppers though, so they lack that smoky flavor.

Best Paprika substitutes

Here are the best paprika substitutes to keep in mind.

1. Cayenne Pepper

1 cayenne pepper

Cayenne pepper makes for a good paprika substitute because it’s another type of capsicum annum. This hot chili pepper is commonly utilized for adding extra flavor to a variety of dishes. It’s a skinny red pepper that is 10 to 25 centimeters long.

It’s also characterized with its curved tip and ripped skin. It hangs from the bush instead of growing in an upright fashion.

2. Chili Powder

2 chili pepper

Chili powder—also known as chili in American English or spelled as chilli in British English or chile in Latin countries—is a grounded and dried version of one or more types of chili pepper. It sometimes has other extra spices added to it for good measure. 

3. Ancho powder

3 ancho powder

Another paprika substitute is Ancho chile powder, also known as Ancho powder. It uses a specific type of grinded chile pepper known as dried poblanos. Compared to regular chili powder and mild varieties of paprika, it’s slightly spicier.

Chile (Spanish word for chili or capsicums) specifically refers to Latin country peppers like poblanos, jalapeños, serranos, habañeros, and so forth.

4. White pepper powder

4 white pepper powder

This light-colored pepper powder is best used on similarly light-colored European dishes such as white sauces, cream-based soups, casseroles, mayonnaise, and pies. You can also utilize it for snacks and instant noodles as well.

Yes, white pepper powder is white colored, but you can use food coloring and this powder in a pinch when you lack paprika in your spice rack or counter.

5. Maras pepper flakes

5 Maras pepper flakes

As for the Maras oily and moist pepper flakes, it’s a type of spice made up of Maras chili. This earthy, slightly acidic chili is native to Southeastern Turkey. It’s also named after a small town in that region that is currently known as Kahramanmaras. 

6. Cajun spice seasoning

6 Cajun spice seasoning

Cajun spice seasoning is a good paprika substitute because it’s also composed of paprika. This rustic staple of Cajun cuisine for chicken, seafood, vegetables, and potatoes hails from Louisiana, of course.

Moreover, aside from paprika, it’s also a blend of oregano, cayenne peppers, peppers, and garlic powder as well as various seasonings for extra flavor.

Related: 27 Popular Types of Potatoes: Varieties, Uses

7. Black peppercorns

7 black peppers

Piper nigrum or black peppercorns come from a flowering vine in the Piperaceae family. The peppercorns are the fruit of the vine. They’re then dried and used as seasoning and spice for various delicious dishes.

It’s a viable paprika substitute, whether you’re using the fully mature peppercorn measuring 5-millimeter or 0.2 inches in diameter or the ground pepper version of them.

8. Pink peppercorn

8 pink peppers

Pink peppercorn, known in French as baie rose (pink berry), is unrelated to black peppercorns or commercial peppers. However, they’re often blended with commercial pepper with their similar peppery flavor.

However, it may cause allergic reactions to those with nut allergies. 

9. Coriander

9 coriander

As for coriander, it’s a good paprika substitute with a unique taste described as a lemon or lime tart taste. The leaves have also been described as tasting as dish soap due to the gene that detects specific aldehydes used in many detergents and soaps.

10. Saffron

10 saffron

Saffron is another paprika-like spice derived from the Crocus sativus flower mainly known as the saffron crocus. It’s particularly reminiscent of paprika due to its crimson coloring. It’s mainly collected for drying and seasoning.

It’s also so vibrant with its coloring that it’s used as food coloring for good measure. Saffron is known as the costliest or most expensive spice pound per pound or by weight.

11. Aleppo pepper

11 aleppo pepper

Named after Aleppo in Syria, the Aleppo spice is currently bought from Turkey and other places. This is because the war-torn Syrian region makes it difficult to get Aleppo pepper straight from the place where it originated. 

It’s derived from Halaby pepper, which is a burgundy-colored type of chili. When it’s ripe, its peppers are dried partly then de-seeded before it’s ground in a coarse manner.

12. Bell peppers

12 bell peppers

As a paprika substitute, fresh bell peppers serve as milder capsicum cultivars. They’re large peppers also known as sweet peppers used in many dishes due to their comparative mildness to other peppers out there. 

They come in a variety of colors such as purple, white, green, orange, yellow, and red. They get their name from their bell-like appearance, like the vegetable version of a lampshade. 

13. Turmeric

13 turmeric

How healthy is turmeric? It has a WebMD article for it outlining its immune system health benefits. This paprika substitute adds an Indian cuisine flavor to your dishes because it’s the main spice linked with curry. 

It’s derived from the turmeric plant and has a distinctively warm, bitter taste to it.

14. Sumac

14 sumac

The plant sumac (sumach, sumak, soumak, or sumaq) has the scientific name of rhus coriaria. The spice sumac comes from dried fruits from the species. This paprika substitute is characterized by its tangy, crimson spice.

Like saffron, it’s also used for dyes and food coloring as well as a tanning agent.

15. Crushed red pepper

15 crushed red pepper

As for crushed red pepper, they’re a valid paprika substitute because they’re composed of various red peppers from the capsicum annuum family. Specifically, they include Fresno, Anaheim, bell, and jalapeño peppers.

Furthermore, it’s primarily composed of cayenne pepper in the U.S. More likely than not, if you buy crushed red pepper, its main ingredient is typically of the cayenne variety.

16. Achiote powder

16 achiote powder

This spice is extracted from the seeds of the Bixa orellana shrub, which can also give people coloring agents as well. The spice is specifically derived from dried seeds. They’re also used whole as well as ground up as a culinary powder.

The powder form is commercially used in order to add the yellow food coloring to margarine, butter, cheese, smoked fish, and chorizo.

17. Chili Flakes

Regarding chili flakes, it’s basically the flakier version of crushed red pepper. The main difference they have over crushed red pepper is that they’re mainly made up of one ingredient.

They’re also something you can make yourself using dry whole red chilies (about 5 to 6 of them to make a teaspoon of flakes).

18. Chipotle powder

18 chipotle powder

Chipotle chile or chili powder isn’t named after the restaurant chain. It’s the other way around. There’s a chili known as chipotle chiles. This powder is made of grounded, dried chipotle chili.

As opposed to paprika or standard chili powder, this powder is composed of several other spices such as cumin, powder, garlic, and oregano.

19. Red curry powder

Thailand’s red curry (also known as kaeng phet) is their version of India’s famous curry powder. Like most curries, it uses a complex combination of herbs and spices in order to achieve their unique flavor.

Its redness comes from dried red chilies. It’s also quite the fragrant curry that can be turned into paste when combined with coconut milk. It’s delicious with duck, shrimp, pork, beef, and chicken.

20. Guajillo chili powder

20 guajillo chili powder

Guajillo (little gourd in Spanish) is a chile or chili second only to ancho in popularity as far as Mexico is concerned. It doesn’t only look almost like paprika in powder form. It’s also characterized with its tangy, pleasantly sharp taste.

Moreover, it comes with hints of pine and berry for good measure. It rates as a 3 to 4 on a heat scale that goes from 1 to 10.

What paprika tastes like?

Obviously, paprika tastes peppery. The nuance of taste depends on the type of paprika. Regular paprika tastes peppery sweet yet mild. Hungarian paprika tastes extra hot and spicy. Spanish paprika has a smoked barbecue taste to its peppery self.

What’s paprika good for?

Paprika is used to add spice (of the peppery hot variety) to a variety of delicious dishes (usually of the Hungarian and Spanish variety using their variant of paprika). It contains beneficial compounds like carotenoid antioxidants, capsaicin, and Vitamin A.

The spice can therefore help improve blood sugar levels, eye health, and cholesterol. It also prevents inflammation.

In a Nutshell

best paprika substitutes list

The spice is available in three variants. You have regular paprika, Hungarian paprika (hot paprika), and Spanish paprika (smoked paprika). They vary based on where they were made. If the recipe specifies a type of paprika, you should use that. 

This way, you can get to taste the dish the way it’s meant to taste. Sure, paprika types can serve as their own substitutes, but this nuance makes the dish more appealing and flavorful when push comes to shove.

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