What’s the Difference Between Sweet, Hot, and Smoked Paprika?

updated Dec 8, 2022
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When a recipe calls for paprika, which kind of paprika is it actually referring to? For years, when I just starting cooking, I always stumbled when I saw the ingredient listed. Go to a spice shop and you may come across dozens of varieties of the ground red spice. The three most common types, sweet, hot, and smoked paprika, may look similar, but they do have their differences. Here’s what you need to know.

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The Difference Between Sweet, Hot, and Smoked Paprika

All paprika is made from the ground skins and flesh of dried red peppers. It’s the variety of red peppers used that separates sweet, hot, and smoked paprika.

Sweet Paprika

When a recipe simply calls for “paprika,” it’s referring to sweet paprika. The most commonly used paprika is made from bright, sweet red peppers, making for a spice that doesn’t have much heat at all. Instead, its flavor is fruity and a little bitter. Sprinkle it on deviled eggs or use it to make classic Hungarian dishes like goulash.

Hot Paprika

Made with extra-spicy red peppers, hot paprika is, of course, hot. Like cayenne or other ground chiles, a little goes a long way with this stuff. Use it in place of sweet paprika when you want to spice up your dish or if you don’t happen to have cayenne or

red pepper flakes

Smoky Corn and Shrimp Fritters (Image credit: Brie Passano)

Smoked Paprika

Dry and smoke the red peppers over an oak fire and you’ve got smoked paprika, which can be made from both sweet and hot pepper varieties. You’ll also see it listed as Spanish paprika or Pimentón de la Vera, as it is Spanish in origin. If it doesn’t specifically say it’s hot or picante, it’s likely sweet, so its flavor is all about the smoke rather than heat and smoke. Use it to add smoky flavor to dishes without actually smoking them.