Paprika Varieties: What's the difference?

Paprika comes in different varieties – hot, smoked, sweet, Spanish, Hungarian. But what’s the difference between the names – isn’t it all just the same stuff? Absolutely not! While all paprika is made in a similar way from a similar combination of peppers, the taste varies greatly. As such, it's important to know what characteristics each type has. Here, we’ll break it down for you, so the next time you reach for a spice, you’ll know it’s the right one.

Paprika

Paprika is a spice made from a variety of Capsicum annum peppers (either bell peppers or chili peppers), grown predominantly in Hungary, Spain and California. The pods are ground to produce a fine powder, which is what you'll find on the shelves of your local supermarket. Paprika is the fourth most consumed spice in the world, often used for both flavor and color – a vibrant red hue that comes through especially in less colorful dishes. It is a common additive to spice mixes, dry rubs, stews and chilis, and is sometimes used to garnish plates before serving (like deviled eggs, for example). Depending on the variety, the hue can change from bright red to orange to brown, and the flavor from mild to rich and spicy.

Paprika (“Regular” or “Plain”)

Most types of paprika you’ll pick up at your local market are the “plain” or “regular” variety. This type of paprika could come from any number of places, and doesn’t tend to have much flavor. It works nicely as a garnish because of its bright red color.

Hungarian Paprika

Hungarian Paprika

Hungarian paprika – the national spice of Hungary – comes in eight different grades of pungency and heat. Flavors can range from delicate and mild to rich and spicy. The predominant flavor profile of Hungarian paprika is rich, sweet red pepper, but some varieties will be spicier or more flavorful than others. The most common variety of Hungarian paprika sold in the US is the Édesnemes (noble-sweet) - often labeled as Hungarian Sweet Paprika. It has a sweet, balanced flavor and a bright red hue.

Spanish Paprika

Spanish Paprika (“Pimentón”)

Spanish paprika is generally thought to be less intense than most Hungarian paprika, but still has plenty of flavor and spice. Depending on the variety, it can either be sweeter and milder, or hotter and more pungent. Shape and size of the peppers used, as well as whether or not seeds have been removed, can dictate that flavor. There are several distinct varieties of Spanish paprika:

Pimentón Dulce (Sweet) --  Sweet and mild with a lighter orange hue.

Pimentón Agridulce (Medium Hot ) -- Medium spice, made from chili peppers.

Pimentón Picante (Hot) –- Made from a blend of hot peppers with lots of spice.

Pimentón de la Vera (Smoky) - Produced in la Vera, Spain, with chiles dried over an open fire. This paprika has a deep, woodsy flavor.

If your recipe simply calls for "paprika", it's best to use Hungarian sweet paprika. This will give you the optimum flavor, without being too overbearing. But if you're comfortable picking and choosing flavor profiles on your own, you can experiment with the different types of paprika listed here, depending on the level of sweet, spice and pungency you desire!

Photo credits: The Kitchn, BBC