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What is Paprika?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Paprika is a red spice made from dried bell peppers that have been ground into tiny particles. While many people typically think of Hungarian foods when they think of the spice — especially since the name comes from the Hungarian — there are many European countries that use the seasoning regularly to both color and flavor foods. It is added to soups and stews, sprinkled over the tops of meats, or forms part of many grilling rubs or seasonings. Paprika is also a common ingredient in sausages, especially those produced in Spain, Portugal, and Germany.

With its often mild flavor and light aroma, paprika is not usually spicy like the seasonings made from chili peppers. This makes sense, since the red bell pepper is a rather sweet and mellow fruit. This spice can add a little heat to a dish, however, especially when certain varieties are used. Yellow to light tan seasonings are often the spiciest, while the red is usually fairly mild.

There are also different grades of paprika, though not many are sold in standard US grocery stores. In Hungary, each grade can yield very different flavors. A few sample grades include the following:

  • Hotor Eros — usually light brown and containing lots of heat.
  • Special Quality — most mild and usually bright red.
  • Noble Sweet — bright red and medium flavor.

Noble Sweet variants are what most Americans commonly buy in the grocery store. This form tends to be favored because of its bright color, good taste, and fairly mild “heat” quotient. Hungary exports more of this grade more than any other form.

Because of its flavor, paprika is a common ingredient in seasoning mixes that don’t include salt. Any type of home made meat rubs or grill seasonings with this spice can add lots of flavor without adding extra sodium, and a few of these blends available at natural food stores are also low in salt or contain no salt. A spice mix like this can liven up food without leaving diners feeling bloated or raising blood pressure. Although many people think of Hungarian Goulash when they think of paprika, the spice can also be added to Mexican and Latin American dishes, Moroccan foods, chili, and salad dressings.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon955739 — On Jun 09, 2014

Paprika can be used in a lot more dishes than to just sprinkle on homemade potato salad.

By summing — On Nov 20, 2012

My grandmother used to always sprinkle paprika on top of mashed potatoes. As a kid I thought it was gross, but now I think it really elevates the flavor.

By wavy58 — On Aug 31, 2012

Sweet paprika is my favorite kind. I like to cut up french fry shaped chunks of sweet potato and sprinkle them with paprika before baking them.

I've also used it on cooked carrots. I find that it tastes best on vegetables that have a natural sweetness to them.

By cloudel — On Aug 31, 2012

@orangey03 – To me, paprika tastes best on top of mashed potatoes. With just a touch of salt to go with it, it can transform bland potatoes into something awesome.

It is just spicy enough to be interesting, but it won't burn your tongue or send you clamoring for a glass of ice water. It's good on just about any form of potatoes, too. I've used it on boiled, baked, and mashed potatoes.

By orangey03 — On Aug 31, 2012

What vegetables taste good with paprika? I am trying to find ways to get my husband to eat more vegetables, and covering them with spices seems to be the only way to do this.

Paprika sounds like it would add character to vegetables. Do some taste better than others with it?

By shell4life — On Aug 30, 2012

Smoked paprika has a lovely flavor to it that reminds me of grilled food. It tastes great on chicken that has been either baked or steamed, because it really adds something to the otherwise bland flavor.

I like to cover raw chicken in paprika before putting it in the steamer. Steamed food is notorious for lacking in anything other than natural flavor, but paprika makes it delicious.

By Mykol — On Aug 29, 2012

What is the difference between Spanish paprika and regular paprika? I was recently going through my spice drawer and saw that I had one of each of these.

I probably picked them up at different times when I was trying out a new recipe. I learned to start writing the date on my spices when I buy them. Otherwise I have no idea how long they have been in there, and wonder if they are still any good or not.

By golf07 — On Aug 28, 2012

I always thought the paprika I was using was old because it never seems to have much smell or flavor to it. After reading this article it sounds like that is the way it is supposed to be.

It has almost the same coloring as chili powder, so I always expected that it would have a flavor that was spicier. I have a paprika chicken recipe that I use this spice for, but other than that haven't found much use for it.

I have a friend who loves to sprinkle this in her scrambled eggs, but that never sounded very appetizing to me.

By SarahSon — On Aug 27, 2012

My son loves to make his own meat rubs and he buys big jars of paprika at a time. My favorite is a sweet smoked paprika that he uses to help give the meat a smoky flavor.

I buy a bottle of paprika and it sits in my spice drawer and rarely gets used. Depending on how much meat my son is grilling and smoking, he can go through a big jar in a short amount of time.

By sunshined — On Aug 27, 2012
I use paprika more for coloring or as a garnish than for seasoning. I have a great recipe for twice baked potatoes, and the finishing touch is always a little sprinkle of paprika.

It really makes them look appetizing, but I don't think it adds much in the way of flavor. I am using the typical red paprika that you find in the store.

I never even realized there was such a thing as yellow paprika. That color would blend in more with the food than stand out like the red paprika does.

By DinoLeash — On Jul 14, 2010

Paprika is great as a garnish for just about anything. You can mix it with margarine, butter, or oil to make a tasty baste for fish. It’s also great on roasted turkey. I mix paprika with bread crumbs and sprinkle the mixture over my casseroles.

By bookworm — On Dec 08, 2008

And don't forget to sprinkle a little paprika on deviled eggs. Paprika should have a nice, strong smell. Replace it, if you can barely smell it whey you open the container.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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