Red-orange sweet paprika is a spice that can draw up confusion for even the most competent of cooks. It’s bright, fruity flavor and eye-popping color is sprinkled on deviled eggs and macaroni salad, as well as used to season fried chicken, goulash, and everything in-between. However, with a handful of paprika varieties out there, understanding how sweet paprika differs from others, like hot paprika, smoked paprika, and just plain old paprika, can make your head spin. Here’s everything you need to know.
Origin: Made from ground, dried red peppers
Often used in: Heavily used in Hungarian cuisine; also appears often sprinkled as a garnish
Substitutes: Regular old paprika (tastes similar to sweet paprika, but milder flavor)
What is Sweet Paprika?
Sweet paprika is a ground dry spice made from sweet, bright dried red peppers. It’s not spicy, rather sweet paprika is fruity, a little tart and bitter, and of course, pleasantly sweet. It’s one of the most heavily used spices in Hungarian cuisine and the best sweet paprikas are sourced from there. If you’re making Hungarian classics like goulash and chicken paprikash, you can expect to be reaching for sweet paprika. Outside of Hungary, sweet paprika doesn’t get quite as much attention as it deserves and it’s often simply used as a garnish or coloring agent in dishes.
What Makes Sweet Paprika Different?
Head to the spice aisle in any grocery store and you’ll be greeted with jars labeled simply as “paprika”. Unless there are any other indicators, “paprika” is the same as sweet paprika. They can be used interchangeably, with one major caveat: Seeking out a jar labeled “sweet paprika” rather than settling for “paprika” usually means you’ll be rewarded with much better flavor. Basic paprika from the grocery store tends to be so mild in flavor it’s uninteresting. It’s best used for its color alone, as a garnish for deviled eggs or hummus. Jars labeled “sweet paprika”, however, often hail from Hungary, and because they take their paprika seriously, you’re in for a much more vibrantly flavored spice.
Sweet Paprika vs. Hot Paprika
The difference between sweet and hot paprika is a little simpler. Hot paprika is made from ground hot dried red peppers, which makes it quite spicy and more akin to cayenne. It, too, is often sourced from Hungary and is commonly featured in traditional Hungarian dishes in conjunction with sweet paprika to lend heat to the dish.
Sweet Paprika vs. Smoked Paprika
Smoked paprika is made using dried red peppers that have been smoked over an oak fire. Smoked paprika is Spanish in origin and can also be called Spanish paprika or Pimentón de la Vera. It can be made using sweet (dulce), semi-spicy or bittersweet (agridulce), or hot (picante) red peppers and will be labeled as such. If it’s simply labeled “smoked paprika”, it’s most likely made using sweet dried red peppers, so it will be mild and fruity like sweet paprika but smoky in flavor as well.
What Does Sweet Paprika Taste Like?
Sweet paprika is mild in flavor, with pleasant sweetness, a touch of tart fruitiness, and a little bit of bitterness.
Where to Buy Sweet Paprika
The best place to find sweet paprika is a spice shop, as there you’ll find true Hungarian sweet paprika rather than the dusty bottle of run-of-the-mill paprika that’s common at grocery stores. Some well-stocked grocery stores, however, will carry tins of Hungarian sweet paprika. Pride of Szeged is a common brand, which is also available on Amazon.
Recipes Made With Sweet Paprika
As mentioned, a number of traditional Hungarian dishes celebrate sweet paprika. However, that’s really just the start. You can use sweet paprika in dry rubs or marinades for meat, braises, sauces, or even in homemade ketchup.