Paprika is a rich red spice used in many different types of cuisine. In fact, it’s one of the top spices in America and is more important than most of us realize. Its taste adds a unique flavor to any dish and is an integral part of most spice blends. But did you know there are different types of paprika—and how you use each one matters a lot?
Many home cooks will see “smoked paprika” listed as an ingredient and assume their regular paprika is the same thing. But there is actually a lot of variety in the paprika types and what they contribute to a dish. Here’s what you need to know about paprika and how to use each type.
What is Paprika?
Paprika is a powdered spice made from a variety of chile peppers. Those peppers are dried and ground up to form the spice. The different types of paprika depend on the peppers and where they are grown. That’s why paprika can have a different degree of heat and flavor based on its type.
The 3 Main Types of Paprika and When to Use Them
Depending on where each chile is grown and how it’s processed, paprika can range in color, flavor, and heat. Some paprika has no heat at all, while other types contribute a ton of spiciness, which is why you don’t want to mix them up.
Here are the three main types of paprika and how they’re best used in recipes.
1. “Regular” Domestic Paprika
Domestic paprika—also known as basic paprika, regular paprika, or just paprika—has a slightly sweet flavor and very mild. It hardly has any heat.
The main contribution of domestic paprika is the rich red color more than flavor. It’s used commonly in dishes like deviled eggs, hummus, rice, potatoes, and chicken recipes. It’s also often used for coloring in salad dressings and other products. Just a dash of paprika can easily liven up a recipe.
If a recipe simply calls for “paprika,” it’s likely referring to domestic paprika.
2. Hungarian Paprika
Unlike domestic paprika, Hungarian paprika is used for its flavor as well as color. It’s a very popular spice in Hungary and is even used as a staple at the table, much like black pepper in the United States. It’s used a lot in egg dishes, casseroles, soups and stews, salads, rubs, chicken dishes like this, and white cheeses.
Hungarian paprika is slightly sweeter than the other types of paprika because it holds onto more sugar. It’s also much more complex than basic paprika and can be purchased in eight different flavor grades! Those are:
- Különleges (also known as “special quality”): mildest spice and flavor with the most vibrant color
- Csípősmentes csemege (“delicate”): mild spice but rich in flavor
- Csemege (“exquisite delicate”): like the csípősmentes csemege but more pungent
- Csípős csemege (“pungent exquisite delicate”): similar to the csemege but even more pungent
- Édesnemes (“noble sweet”): a little pungent with a bright red color; this is also the most common type of Hungarian paprika
- Félédes (“half-sweet”): partially sweet with medium pungency
- Rózsa (“rose”): mildly pungent with a light red color
- Erős (“hot”): the hottest spice of all with a light brown-orange color
The Hungarian paprika sold in the United States is usually the édesnemes grade, which is typically labeled as Hungarian sweet paprika.
3. Spanish Paprika
The third main type of paprika is Spanish paprika. It’s usually made with smoked peppers, so the flavor is smokier and richer than other varieties. That’s because it’s made in the traditional way by slowly drying the peppers after harvest in adobe smokehouses. The peppers are then milled slowly to preserve the flavor and color.
It also has a dark red earthy tone with a little heat. However, there are different blends of Spanish paprika that make provide different levels of sweetness and heat.
The three main types of Spanish paprika are:
- Dulce (sweet)
- Agrodolce (bittersweet)
- Picante (hot)
Spanish paprika is often labeled as “pimentón.” It’s also sometimes called sweet paprika or smoked pimentón. To have the full variety of options, you’ll probably have to go to a large grocery store or local spice shop. Spanish paprika is a well-known addition to authentic Spanish dishes like paella and chorizo. It’s also used in American dishes like stews, barbecue seasonings, and more.
So, next time you’re making something that calls for paprika, remember there are many different types of paprika to choose from. And what you use can affect your recipe in different ways. Try out a new version and find your favorite!