There are several different types of paprika, but hands up if you’ve read a recipe requiring paprika and just used whichever one you have to hand in your store cupboard? Because they’re all pretty much the same, right? Wrong! You should be able to buy at last three different types of paprika from your supermarket, and here’s why you should have all three in your spice rack, and use the right one for the right recipe:
What Is Paprika?
Paprika is a spice made of sweet red peppers that have been dried and then ground to a powder that varies in colour between terracotta and dark red. It ranges from mild to hot, but is primarily used to add flavour and colour to dishes rather than heat. Paprika is used in a lot of Spanish and North African dishes (think: chorizo), but is an essential spice in Hungarian cuisine (dishes such as goulash). Historically, peppers originated in Mexico and North America before being introduced to Europe in the 16th century – initially into Spain before spreading across Europe and North Africa. It didn’t become popular in Hungary until the late 19th century, however its popularity there means that the country is a major producer, alongside Spain where it is known as pimentón. Many different varieties of paprika are available, listed as either sweet, mild, spicy/hot (picante) or smoked, or as combinations of the above!
Sweet Paprika (right)
Also labeled simply as “paprika”, sweet paprika has a sweet pepper flavour and adds colour to a dish, but not heat. If your recipe simply says “paprika” then use this, because substituting in hot or smoked paprika will impact the flavour and warmth of the dish and may not work.
Hot Paprika (centre)
As the name suggests, hot paprika is spicier and is used to add heat to a dish, as well as flavour and colour. Hot paprika is the paprika of choice in Hungarian dishes such as goulash and paprikash, in which it is the key flavour. If you don’t have any hot paprika to hand but a recipe calls for it, then you can use sweet/regular paprika instead and use cayenne pepper to add the required heat.
Smoked Paprika (left)
In Spain it is common to dry paprika over oak fires, giving the paprika a rich and smokey flavour. Smoked paprika is usually available as mild (pimentón dulce), mildly spicy (pimentón agridulce) and spicy (pimentón picante), or you can buy Spanish pimentón de la Vera, which is smoked paprika from the La Vera region of western Spain that has EU “Protected Denomination of Origin” status (just like Cornish pasties, clotted cream and Fal oysters). Smoked paprika is used for its rich and smokey flavour, so you could use sweet/regular paprika at a push but the dish will lose that signature flavour that the smoked paprika is used for.