What Is Smoked Paprika?

There’s really nothing that compares to big, bold smoked paprika. If you’re looking to bring woodsy, smoky flavor and depth to your food, this is the spice you’ll want to keep stocked!

What is smoked paprika?

Lori Rice / Simply Recipes

I like to think the moment I added smoked paprika to my spice cabinet was the moment my kitchen changed forever. If all you think of when you hear the word “paprika” is the bright red-orange, almost flavorless spice you sprinkle on deviled eggs, think again. Smoked paprika is big, bold, and as the name implies, smoky! Curious to learn more about this unique spice that deserves a spot in your pantry? Let’s dive in.

Smoked Paprika

Origin: Made from ground, smoked dried red peppers.

Often used in: Heavily in Spanish cuisine, but now more widely used.

Substitutes: A 2:1 ratio of paprika and cumin or ancho chile or chipotle powder.

What is Smoked Paprika?

Smoked paprika hails from Spain, which is why you’ll also sometimes see it listed as Spanish paprika or Pimentón de la Vera, which translates to paprika of the La Vera. This is a district in Western Spain that is famous for its drying and smoking red peppers over an oak fire, then grinding them. The result of this unique process is a vibrantly red spice that’s deliciously smoky in flavor.

What is smoked paprika?

Lori Rice / Simply Recipes

Smoked Paprika vs. Paprika

The main difference between smoked paprika and paprika is that smoked paprika is made from red peppers that are dried and smoked over an oak fire before they’re ground instead of simply being dried and ground. This lends a strong smoky flavor to smoked paprika that isn’t present in paprika. Both smoked paprika and paprika can be made with sweet, mild red peppers or hot, spicy red peppers, which means their difference is much less about heat than it is about smokiness. 

Varieties of Smoked Paprika

Smoked paprika can be made with red peppers in a range of heat levels. It can be made using sweet (dulce), semi-spicy or bittersweet (agridulce), or hot (picante) red peppers. Most recipes, however, don’t specify the heat level, which leaves you to select the one you prefer depending on your spice tolerance. It’s also important to note that many smoked paprikas at the store don’t specify their heat level either. If that’s the case with the jar you’re buying, you can assume it’s sweet smoked paprika, so it’s flavor will be smoky without hot spice. If you’re just starting out on your smoked paprika journey, I encourage you to start there, then seek out the other varieties if you’d like to bring some heat to your recipes. Hot smoked paprika is my personal favorite because for me, it packs a one-two punch of smoke and spice.

What Does Smoked Paprika Taste Like?

Smoked paprika is, well, smoky. It delivers smoky, woodsy flavor to food without having to smoke the food itself. It’s also earthy and just a tiny bit fruity and bright.

What is smoked paprika?

Lori Rice / Simply Recipes

Where to Buy Smoked Paprika

While it was once hard to find, smoked paprika has gained so much popularity in recent years that most grocery stores carry it. As mentioned, you might not have access to the different varieties of smoked paprika at these stores. Spice shops, retailers that specialize in Spanish ingredients, and Amazon are the best places to find the three varieties of smoked paprika.

Smoked Paprika Substitutions

Since smoked paprika’s smoky flavor is unique, there isn’t a perfect substitute. However, in a pinch you can use ancho chile or chipotle powder, which are also made from dried and smoked peppers. Chipotle powder is more in line with hot smoked paprika in terms of heat level, however, so use less if you’d prefer your dish less spicy. 

Another alternative is a 2:1 ratio of paprika and ground cumin. So if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika, try swapping in 2/3 teaspoons paprika and 1/3 teaspoon ground cumin.

Recipes Made With Smoked Paprika

While smoked paprika is featured prominently in a number of Spanish dishes, it’s become so popular in recent years that you’ll come across it in a wide variety of recipes and cuisines. It’s great in marinades, as a dry rub, in sauces, and more. It’s also a great way to lend smoky, almost meaty flavor to meatless dishes.