If you’re like most people when making meals, you’ll see a recipe that calls for paprika and you’ll just grab what looks right. Most people don’t understand, however, that there is smoked paprika and sweet paprika and the one that you choose can result in a very different taste bud experience.
Most don’t appreciate this fact, lumping both types together in the same category, so it’s perhaps not surprising that some don’t get the desired results when cooking with it. Most don’t understand the distinct differences between the two - and they are distinct.
While they all have similar coloring, the tastes you can experience from paprika range from mild to extremely hot (in the case of Hungarian hot paprika), so it’s important that you get the right kind for your needs. That’s what we hope to address in this blog, as we look more closely at the two types.
Let’s first take a look at what paprika is and where it comes from…
The Origins of Paprika
Regardless of whether you’re talking about sweet paprika or the smoked variety, it’s traditionally created from dried, ground red peppers - which is why it has its distinctive red coloring. While paprika is typically made from Capsicum annuum, a group that contains chili peppers, those used are usually a lot milder, with flesh that’s not quite as thick.
Every variety of paprika in existence originates from types that grow wild in both North America and Central Mexico. For hundreds of years, these peppers remained solely in these areas before being taken back to Spain by 16th-century conquistadors. From there, the trade of paprika spread from the Iberian Peninsular, through Africa and Central Europe.
It didn’t become widely used in Europe until the late 19th century, but since then, it has become popular around the world as a flavoring and coloring ingredient. No modern kitchen herb rack is complete these days without some kind of paprika being featured.
So, What Are The Differences Between Smoked & Sweet Paprika?
The big question here though, is not where paprika comes from, but how do sweet and smoked kinds differ, other than the obvious? Carry on and you’ll find out all about it!
By far the most common type of paprika you’ll find in kitchens is sweet - even when it’s labeled simply as paprika. The reason for this is that the majority of capsicum annuum peppers are sweet, especially when they’re cultivated in cooler parts of the world. Paprika isn’t usually hot - despite being made of chili peppers - as only the flesh of the plant is used.
The taste of the sweet variety is a particularly subtle one, so it’s not something that’s going to add a noticeable sweetness to your cooking. Instead, it offers an earthy, well-rounded flavor that’s free from heat or sharpness. It will also provide vibrant color to any food that it’s used with, adding a wonderful, mouthwatering hue when used as a meat rub.
So, if you’re cooking and you see paprika among the list of ingredients, then it’s sweet paprika that you should be using. That’s not to say it will ruin your food if you don’t, but it may result in flavors that differ from those mentioned in the recipe.
What’s the best way to describe smoked paprika? Well, as its name would suggest, it’s an ingredient that adds more than a soupçon of smoky character and it’s able to offer this as the peppers used to create it are smoked during the drying process. You may find some of the hotter varieties (that include the seeds as well) being smoked, so you need to keep a keen eye out if you’re not good with hot spices!
Often referred to as Spanish Paprika or Pimenton, this type of paprika is dried while suspended over open oak fires. So long as you avoid the piquant varieties, you won’t find any heat being added to dishes created with smoked paprika, but you will notice a beautiful, distinctly smoky undertone that complements, rather than overpowers the dish involved.
Now It’s Your Turn to Choose!
So, when it comes down to it, you do very much get what’s advertised with both smoked and sweet paprika. The one you ultimately choose will depend on what kind of flavors you’re trying to create, be they subtly sweet or undoubtedly smoky yet delicious.
Just be careful that you’re not using hot paprika that may leave you reaching for the water jug! Do that and all you’ll get are the wonderful innate flavors of this hugely popular product.
If you’re looking for some high-quality paprika for yourself, be sure to visit the Little Istanbul Gifts Shop where you’ll find both types, as well as an incredible range of herbs and spices from around the world. That’s it from us this time. We’ll see you again soon!