A Guide to Paprika and Its 3 Different Types

March  6, 2018

I was rifling through recipes on our site when I noticed something: All the recipes that involved paprika were inconsistent. No, no, I’m not trying to say there’s some massive flaw with our site; what I’m trying to say is that some recipes called for sweet paprika, others for hot, and still others for smoked. Do you mean to tell me there’s more than one paprika?!

As it turns out, yes, yes there are actually three main types of paprika: sweet, smoked, and hot. Wow! Who knew? Apparently, not me. Obviously, my interest was piqued, so I talked to Emma, our food writer and recipe developer. Turns out, she has pretty strong opinions on paprika and, unsurprisingly, had a good amount to say. I asked her to help me explain the differences and whether or not it mattered what a recipe called for:

They totally matter! Imagine sweet versus smoked is a griddled versus grilled hamburger. And for sweet versus hot, ketchup versus hot sauce. I like to ask my recipe what it’s trying to accomplish, then go from there. My grandma makes these family-famous, crispy, roasted potatoes with tons of paprika. For a dish like that—or, say, paprikash—all hot or all smoked would be overpowering. So, a mix would be perfect. But if it’s just a lil’ pinch—maybe in a Mornay for mac and cheese—using all hot or smoked would be fine.

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Hmmm, good to know. It seemed I was only on the beginning of my path to understanding paprika. To further acquaint myself, I rounded up some of the paprika recipes on our site and divided them by the type of spice they required. Some call for a mix of one, two, or three (!), while others are all about consistency. Regardless, all this talk has got me craving that warm and fiery flavor. Maybe a chicken paprikash is in store for me tonight....


This is your basic, baseline, go-to paprika. It’s not overwhelming in any direction and lends itself well to a variety of recipes. It has a sweet (obviously), peppery flavor without bringing any intense heat. Sprinkle it over deviled eggs or potato salads or use it in any of these recipes:


Also called Spanish paprika or pimenton, smoked paprika is made from peppers that are smoked, dried, and then ground into powder. This spice brings to any dish an earthy complexity that tastes like...well, smoke. But only in the best way. You can also find smoked paprika in mild, medium, or hot varieties.


Now this one here is the one you may have also heard referred to as Hungarian paprika. It’s that star of goulash that you can’t get enough of. This version of paprika has a kick and brings with it a piquant, peppery flavor.

Which of the three paprikas is your favorite? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Charlie Sommers
    Charlie Sommers
  • Julieb
  • MalliG
  • Smaug
  • amysarah
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Charlie S. April 25, 2021
I adore Spanish Smoked Paprika, I like to sprinkle it rather heavily on shrimp along with a bit of Old Bay, then sauté in a little bacon fat along with an ample amount of rough chopped garlic, stir in a squirt of Kikkoman Soy Sauce and a dash of ketchup and serve with grits or rice. My son-in-law can't get enough of this simple recipe.
Julieb October 7, 2020
I love them all, but smoked is especially special. Try it on popcorn!
Charlie S. April 25, 2021
On popcorn! What a splendid idea. In Guam many sprinkle their popcorn with Tabasco Sauce.
MalliG March 7, 2018
I used half sweet, half hot - it was a terrific balance. Have never done that before, always used one or the other. Now I know - together they are great!
Smaug March 7, 2018
Actually, I believe that all Spanish paprika- plain, smoked or hot, is called pimenton. As a gardener, I have grown at least half a dozen peppers sold as "the" paprika pepper- they were all pretty good.
amysarah March 7, 2018
There are actually several types of 'sweet' paprika in Hungary - much more flavorful than the ubiquitous American version, used primarily for color. It has a distinct, complex, earthy taste. Also, as far as I know (Hungarian family) - hot paprika is used in moderation in Hungarian cooking, enough to add a subtle kick but not, as suggested here, as the dominant flavor (certainly not in classic goulash.) Re smoked paprika - I love the stuff, and it might be tasty in goulash, but it's a Spanish flavor. I'm sure Pimenton is available in Budapest these days - just like Balsamic vinegar is available in Tokyo - but it's not traditionally Hungarian.
amysarah March 7, 2018
Just realized I typed 'goulash' while thinking 'paprikash'...oh well, point remains the same.
arcane54 March 7, 2018
I grow paprika peppers and the taste is just amazing! I hoard it for recipes that are all about the paprika - like chicken paprikash. So worth the work!
Smaug October 28, 2018
I've grown several different peppers claiming to be "the" paprika pepper", and there are more; also a lot of paprikas are blends.. Some argue that "pimenton" is not paprika, but the term is pretty elastic- there are actually many variations in places where it is widely used.
Chris March 6, 2018
which one is my fave? that's a trick question because i love all three and have to make sure i pick the correct one for the dish i'm cooking at the time. first time i had smoked paprika on hand i was sprinkling it on just about everything, and not always with positive results. blending two or even all three can be interesting if done carefully. regardless, i can't ever seem to have too much paprika.
MalliG March 6, 2018
Just made chicken paprikash with a blend of sweet and hot paprika from my last visit to Budapest. Definitely the way to go! Recipe said you could use smoked - don't think so!