Bright red paprika ranges from mild to hot but always rewards with satisfying sweetness and rich flavor. Few powdered peppers can compare to the balanced pungency of high-quality paprika, and there’s an assortment of different varieties available, granting vivid color and an explosion of flavor to any meal. However, if you’re fresh out or want to infuse a new taste into a favorite meal, we’ve got the ten best paprika substitutes coming up.
Paprika is a spice made from drying and powdering Capsicum annuum chili peppers. Hungarian and Spanish paprika are the two main varieties cultivated, ranging in flavor and heat from mild and sweet to mildly hot, hot with heat comparable to cayenne pepper, and extra hot, burning similarly to chili pepper.
Paprika ranges in heat from varying degrees of mild to hot based on the type and maturity of the peppers used. Regardless of the variety, one can expect a spectrum of flavor that rewards with a prominent sweetness and an earthy peppery taste. Paprika is flavorful and aromatic, and the smoked variety gains an intense smoky flavor reminiscent of the char of a good grill thanks to the open fire roasting of the peppers before grinding.
There’s a night and day difference between smoked paprika and regular paprika. All the same basic taste notes are there, but the char-grilled flavor is unmistakable and near irreplaceable. The only way to compensate for the smokey flavor of smoked paprika is to combine unsmoked paprika with liquid smoke or to use a smoked substitute. However, the result still won’t be exactly the same. Liquid smoke grants a far stronger smoky taste than the subtle smokiness of paprika but the end result will nonetheless be similar.
Here are the top ten paprika substitutes available.
Smoked paprika is the preferred spice for many due to the pungent, smoky, spicy flavor imparted to various meals. However, keep the bold smoked taste in mind when picking it out as an alternative to paprika. One can add many times the recommended amount of paprika when substituting unsmoked paprika for the smoked variety, but just a small amount of high-quality smoked seasoning will change your recipe’s flavor profile significantly. Nonetheless, smoked paprika should be your go-to if you can’t find sweet, mild, or hot paprika as called for by a recipe.
Swapping cayenne pepper for paprika grants a closely matched subdued kick that pairs well with a variety of flavors thanks to being made from the exact same type of pepper. Whereas there are many different types of Hungarian, Romanian, Mexican, and Spanish peppers used to make paprika, cayenne pepper tastes most similar to hot Hungarian paprika. The main difference, which translates to a far simpler flavor, is the lack of sweetness that normally accentuates paprika’s complex spiciness. You still get the bright pervading red color and a similar degree of heat.
If you’re substituting chili powder for paprika, you’ll need to normally add half the quantity to reach a similar result. By itself, chili powder is most similar to the hottest variety of Hungarian paprika, but the burn is far more overpowering. Many chefs choose to combine various chili powders like bird’s eye, habanero, and ancho to create extra dimensions of flavor.
Most have dried chili flakes readily available, making it a reliable alternative to paprika that’s a little milder than chili powder. The coarse texture will also impact your meal, so keep this in mind when selecting your substitute. There’s also an earthiness to dried chili flakes that isn’t there with most other substitutes, and they’re less intense in flavor overall. When you’re looking for nothing more than a light burn with lightly toasted flavor, dried chili flakes are your best option.
Louisiana’s most famous spice, cajun seasoning, is a hot blend of paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and black pepper. It’s a fantastic alternative to paprika that’s not only great in Cajun cuisine but all types of recipes that call for a certain degree of spicy sweetness. Feel free to add onion powder, white pepper, or herbs like oregano and marjoram if you’re making your own. Despite being a blend, the heat and flavor are strikingly similar to hot paprika.
Harissa spice is a Middle Eastern and North African spice blend that’s also sold as a sauce and paste. As a spice that combines pounded chili peppers like Tunisian Baklouti, roasted bell peppers, and red hot Mexican chilis with coriander, caraway, cumin, garlic, salt, and often smoked paprika itself, Harissa is a fiery substitute that’s sure to add immense flavor to any meal. Beware of the supplementary spices like coriander, cumin, and garlic’s effect on your other ingredients.
Flavorful sweet chipotle chilis are dried and ground down, supplied alone without the addition of any other herbs and spices. The heat of chipotle powder is comparable to a fresh seeded jalapeno making it a medium strength alternative to paprika. Expect a sweetness that’s more subdued than smoked or regular paprika and a little hotter heat level. Your meal will have a definite bite, but the basic flavor profile will remain remarkably similar.
Ancho powder is made from dried ground ancho chili peppers. Also known as poblano peppers, ancho chilis are very dark red, resembling black in color, and have a rich smoky-sweet flavor slightly similar to raisins with a mild level of heat. This well-balanced chili powder is one of the most popular varieties used in Mexican cuisine, loved for its lingering sweetness. It is this same quality that makes the flavor similar to paprika.
Adobo seasoning is a spicy Mexican blend that’s a reliable alternative to paprika if you find the right version. If you manage to get your hands on adobo seasoning with chili powder or ground habanero instead of the traditional black pepper used, you’ve got a tasty sweet substitute to paprika that’ll also introduce a bold taste of garlic to your blend. It’s a taste that’s akin to cajun seasoning but with a richer, more savory flavor profile.
Chili Verde Salt comes both smoked and unsmoked, offering a versatile substitute to paprika regardless of which you need. As a fusion of green chili and sea salt, each granule explodes with flavor while imparting the taste of freshly chopped green chili into your meal. There’s no sweetness to speak of other than the mild sweet aftertaste of a lingering burn, but you can use a teaspoon of Chili Verde Salt just about anywhere without changing the taste of the base recipe too much.
Berbere spice is an often-difficult-to-locate hot spice blend integral to Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine that’s packed with antioxidants making it a healthy, tasty alternative to paprika. If you’ve found authentic berbere, you’ve got a mix of dried bird’s eye chilies, black pepper, coriander, cumin, cardamom, fenugreek, cloves, sea salt, smoked paprika, sweet paprika, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and difficult to find local spices like Korarima, Rue, and Ajwain. The sheer number of spices in berbere means that it’ll change the flavor of your meal significantly, but all the core taste notes typically suit cuisine that incorporates paprika.
What Is The Best Substitute For Paprika?
The best substitute for paprika will ultimately be a blend of spices that matches your personal preference for heat, sweetness, and the flavor profile of the meal you’re cooking. We suggest that you not only try out these paprika alternatives but also a variety of different types of paprika so that you’re familiar with the taste sensation of all varieties of sweetness and heat.