Paprika is one of those spice rack essentials that you can add to many dishes, but it is also important to know exactly which type we are using too!
What Is Paprika
The Hungarian name Paprika actually refers to peppers that were introduced to the Old World in the 16th Century from Mexico and Central America.
Paprika is a spice made traditionally from dried skin and flesh of Capsicum annuum peppers, including chili and bell peppers. There are variants on the heat and spice of paprika down to which of these peppers are used, sweeter or hotter. Colored from orange red to darkest red.
It is worth understanding which one a recipe is calling for.
Three Types Of Paprika
The three types of paprika add something different to a dish and you can learn how to make all three quite easily.
Sweet Paprika is your day to day spice. If the recipe simply states paprika, it will be sweet paprika that you use. Adding color but very little in terms of heat. Use this as a sprinkle or garnish of color on devilled eggs or in meat herb rubs. You will find a sweetness from the bell peppers used.
In Hungarian cooking the paprika used is Hot Paprika, and they are not messing about! Adding color and sweetness as well as an intense warmth. This is the one used in goulash or dishes that require brightness as well as heat. Containing dried flesh and skin of the cayenne pepper to bring a warm heat, not just fiery heat.
Smoked Paprika has become a very popular spice as it adds that Barbeque type of flavor and is available in mild, sweet or hot. Often called Pimenton (Spanish for peppers), and therefore also called Spanish Paprika. Made by smoking your capsicums as you dry them. When added to cooking it can give a smoky, woody and sweet heat as well as vibrant color, with this one spice.
How To Make Paprika
This is your basic recipe and you can adjust this to suit your heat preference. Use a mixture of red bell peppers and red chilis, or just bell peppers for a purely sweet paprika.
- 1 Large red bell pepper = 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 Large red bell pepper + 2 red chilis = 3 teaspoons hot paprika
Dry Your Peppers The method you choose depends on your climate. In the UK and colder climates, generally USDA zones 8 and below, you will struggle with air drying peppers. This is because they will take months of sunshine to dry out fully – close to a year in our climate. During this time mold and pests become a very real possibility. For this reason I recommend a dehydrator.
Drying peppers in a dehydrator is faster and more easy to control. Start by cutting your peppers in half and deseeding. Lay on the trays and set the temperature to 125-135 F (roughly 50-60C) and set your timer for 4 hours. Depending on how juicy the peppers are the total time may be 12 hours. You need the flesh and skin to be crumbly and totally dried to process.
Smoked Paprika is easy to achieve with a cold smoker and fresh peppers or a hot smoker to dry them out a little before adding to a dehydrator for their final few hours.
Once the peppers are dried you are ready to grind in a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar. You want a fine powder for your paprika, this is ideal for storing in an airtight container in your spice rack for between 1-2 years.
Substitutes For Paprika
Once you can make your own paprika you may think that you will always have some in your spice rack, but we can all run low on ingredients from time to time. It is important to understand the best replacements and alternatives.
- Cayenne Pepper is a good substitute for hot paprika. Otherwise you may be killing the other flavors in a dish with an unnecessarily hot ingredient. If you are looking for sweet paprika, walk away from the cayenne.
- Chili Powder or Chili Flakes offer the same level of heat as hot paprika but you would lower your ratios a little. 1 teaspoon hot paprika = 3/4 teaspoon chili powder. You will find it adds the same warm color to a dish as well.
- Cajun Spice is a blend of cayenne pepper and black and white pepper. SO it can give the heat and a little of the color, but make sure to omit any additional black pepper that a recipe calls for if using Cajun spice to replace hot paprika.
- There is one massive reason why you may not use this replacement…Cost! But hear me out on this one. Saffron will give the color that paprika does and unlike the other ingredients it won’t also give a strong heat. If anything it is a slightly innocent flavor that just sits back and let’s the rest of the dish do all the work.
- Turmeric will give a golden color to a dish that is rich and when combined with tomato puree you will have a similar affect to adding paprika. 1 tablespoon of paprika = 1 teaspoon turmeric + 1 tablespoon tomato puree. This works well in a goulash, stew or even cooked down into a paella. Just be aware that unless you cook it off the turmeric will have a bitterness that needs the tomato puree to lighten it.
There is no one perfect replacement for paprika and we love to grow our own food and herbs and spices are no exception. The more control we have over our ingredients the more flavor we can pack into our cooking.
Recipes That Use Paprika
- Chicken With Smoked Paprika What I like about this dish is how simple it is. Just three ingredients and you can pop your chicken on the BBQ for extra smokiness. Also makes a great rub for roasting vegetables that you want to make into a real Winter warmer. Choose which smoked paprika to make this with to turn it from sweet and gentle to hot and fiery.
- Spanish Paella With Smoked Paprika This is a traditional with a twist using artichoke hearts adds a real lightness and contrast to the heaviness of paella. I have memories of Summer’s in the South of Spain watching the men cooking on the harbor in dishes the size of boats (to me when I was young anyway) and stirring in cups of spices at a time.
- Traditional Hungarian Goulash This recipe is a very traditional version, as such some of the ingredients are hard to come by. There are substitutions for most of them mentioned but the story of the Hungarian cowboys eating their goulash is well worth a read in itself! Here is a more ‘weeknight friendly’ recipe that has ingredients we may more easily find in our local supermarkets.
- Devilled Eggs are a real buffet favorite and will please most of the family! By using sweet paprika you will keep them happy, but this recipe does also call for Tabasco, so just be aware of younger family members.
- Bloody Mary – With A Basil Twist Can be a great starting block to then add a sprinkle of hot paprika and remove the Worcestershire sauce and replace with Tabasco sauce for a Mexican version.
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Best of luck with making your own spice blend and do let us know how you get on. We hope you enjoy using this flavor packed spice!