There's a big difference between sweet, smoked, and hot paprika.
Every time I found a recipe that called for smoked or hot paprika, I shrugged and sprinkled in the regular stuff instead. I thought the different varieties didn't really make a difference, so there wasn't a need for me to keep three different versions of the same spice on hand.
Turns out, I was wrong. Paprika in its simplest form is made from grinding sweet pepper pods to create the iconic bright red powder. But depending on the variety of paprika, the color can range from a bright orange-red to a deep blood red and the flavor can be anything from sweet and mild to bitter and hot.
Be careful to purchase the right kind of paprika for your dishes, and store the spice in a cool, dark place for up to six months.
Typically just labeled as paprika, this spice adds vibrant color to any dish. It can be sprinkled as a garnish over deviled eggs or potato salad, or used as a flavoring for meat rubs. It has a sweet pepper flavor, without any heat. If a recipe doesn't specify the type of paprika, we recommend using this kind.
Some dishes that call for sweet paprika are flexible with type, like our Chorizo Roasted Poblano Pepper Wild Rice Stuffing. Sweet paprika provides a sweeter flavor to calm down the heat, but smoked paprika will add a delicious, subtle smokiness. Other dishes, like Moroccan Butternut Squash Chickpea Stew and Slow-Cooked BBQ Pork Roast need the sweet paprika to balance other spices. We generally don't recommend substituting in hot or smoked paprika.
Hot paprika is the Hungarian variety of paprika, and is generally accepted as superior to the rest. In Hungarian cuisine, paprika is used as a primary flavoring method, instead of simply adding color to a dish. It is most commonly found in classic dishes like Goulash, a stew made from red meat. onions, potatoes, and vegetables, and served over egg noodles, and the creamy Paprikash, a similar stew that uses lighter meats and sour cream.
This version adds a peppery, spicy kick to any dish. Our Paprika Rubbed Sheet Tray Chicken blends both hot and smoked paprika for a truly fiery bite, while our Breakfast Hot Dish subs hot paprika in for spicy Aleppo pepper. You can sub sweet paprika into dishes that call for hot paprika and sprinkle a touch of cayenne pepper in to compensate for the heat. We do not recommend using smoked paprika in place of hot.
Smoked paprika, often called pimenton or smoked Spanish paprika, is made from peppers that are smoked and dried over oak fires. This process gives the red powder a rich, smoky flavor. You can find this smoked variety in mild, medium-hot, and hot. True Spanish pimenton is produced using traditional techniques and comes from specific areas in Spain, as per the European Union's laws.
This variety is has a smoky flavor you might find by grilling outdoors or charring a red pepper. The flavor is still sweet and cool without adding any heat to the dish, unless you purchase a hot, smoked variety. You can sample the smokey undertones in our Roasted Sweet Potatoes With Smoked Paprika-Honey Butter or dig into a bowl of Smoky Lentil Stew. You can sub in sweet paprika into dishes that call for smoked, but it will drastically change the flavor of the dish by removing the smokiness.
Information in this article comes from The New Food Lover's Companion Fifth Edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst unless otherwise noted.