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Best Substitutes for Paprika

Lisa Price
Last Updated on
by Lisa Price

Is your recipe calling for paprika, but you don’t have it in the pantry? There is no need to panic as there are multiple spices you can use as a paprika substitute. They might not provide the exact same paprika flavor, but our picks are the closest to the spice.

Today, we will share the top 5 substitutes for paprika.

What is Paprika?

Paprika
Paprika

Paprika is a universal ground spice and the national spice of Hungary. It is used in a wide variety of Hungarian cuisine and even used as a ubiquitous seasoning instead of salt and pepper. Paprika originated from Central Mexico and was later taken to Spain in the 16th century. From there, it spread across Asia, Europe, and Africa. It is also the fourth most consumed spice in the world.

Paprika is made from a blend of certain dried peppers and the capsicum annuum family. Apart from adding its distinct flavor to a dish, paprika is a versatile spice. You can use it to season meals, for garnishing, or to add a touch of color to a dish. The paprika flavor is either sweet (also known as regular paprika), hot, or smoked. The basic flavor of either depends on the type of pepper used to produce paprika.

Just like its flavors, paprika is distinguished into three types:

  • Sweet Paprika. Mostly labeled as paprika, this version has low heat with a slightly sweet taste. For those who have low spice tolerance, sweet paprika is the best choice.
  • Hot Paprika. As the name suggests, this version is made from spicy red peppers and adds a kick of chili flavor to a dish.
  • Smoked Paprika. This is made from dried and smoked peppers and is nearly equally spicy as hot paprika.

Top 5 Paprika Substitutes

Although there are various spices you can use as a paprika substitute, Ancho chili powder, Cayenne pepper and Chili powder are the closest matches to paprika in terms of flavor and the crimson red hue.

1. Ancho Chili Powder as Sweet Paprika Substitute

Ancho Chili Powder
Ancho Chili Powder

If you cannot find paprika for your recipe, ancho chili powder is the best sweet paprika substitute due to its similarity in taste.

Ancho chili powder is made from poblano peppers (also known as ground ancho chilies) which are picked ripe, dried, and then toasted. Ancho chilies have a sweet, mildly hot, and smoky flavor with a deep red hue. Due to its smoky trait, you can also use ancho chili powder as a smoky paprika alternative. It also contains capsaicin, which is an appetite suppressant that may aid weight loss.

Ancho means wide chili in Spanish. This pepper is a deep red tone and is wrinkled like a raisin. It is a popular ingredient in Mexican cuisine and is used in numerous delicacies.

Some might confuse ancho chili powder with regular chili powder, which is a mix of other spices such as cumin, chili peppers, paprika, and more. Ancho chili powder is not a kitchen staple item, so you might need to add it to your grocery shopping list.

To use ancho chili powder in a recipe, use half to one teaspoon as a replacement to one teaspoon of paprika. Do not worry if you use a tad bit more because ancho chilies are not very hot and only range between 1000 to 1500 units of the Scoville Scale (used to measure the spiciness of chili peppers).  

2. Cayenne Pepper as a Paprika Alternative

Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne Pepper

Another common paprika replacement is cayenne pepper, which is almost identical in color to paprika but is super spicy. Cayenne pepper is a popular choice for adding a touch of spice to various dishes, including pizza, soups, meats, and in some countries, even dessert. It is a handy addition to your spice rack.

Cayenne pepper consists of a natural smoky taste but compared to smoked paprika, it is a lot hotter. It is a benefit, as you get the red color, and need to use less amount of spice. If you are new to cayenne pepper or sensitive towards high spice, be sure to use a tiny amount unless you get the desired taste.

Cayenne originated in South America and got its name from the city of Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana. It is also known by other names such as Guinea spice, cow-horn peppers, and bird pepper.

Historic records show that cayenne pepper has been in existence for thousands of years. The British first discovered cayenne pepper in India during the mid-1500s.

In Mexico, cayenne pepper is known as Chili, but it also has other names such as:

  • Capsique or Poivre de Cayenne, in France
  • American red pepper
  • African red pepper
  • African bird pepper
  • Spanish pepper
  • Guinea pepper.

Chili peppers are used to produce cayenne pepper and take credit for the jump in cayenne spice levels. It falls between 30,000 to 50,000 SHU (Scoville heat units) and is comparable to tabasco in the matter of heat. Cayenne is also the ideal smoked paprika substitute.

To use cayenne pepper as a paprika replacement, begin with 1/4th or half teaspoon of cayenne pepper to one teaspoon of paprika. Add more if desired.

3. Regular Chili Powder as Sweet Paprika Substitute

Regular Chili Powder
Regular Chili Powder

It is impossible not to find chili powder in a kitchen. Numerous South Asian cuisines depend on chili powder for spiciness and color.

The two main ingredients that make chili powder are paprika and cayenne pepper mixed with other spices such as cumin, oregano, onion powder, and garlic. Compared to paprika, chili powder is hot, but it is milder than cayenne pepper. In terms of color, chili powder is the closest among all spices to match paprika. The heat level of chili powder is comparable to smoked or Hungarian paprika.

Chili powder ranges between 500 to 1500 SHU, which can cause a mild burn but is not enough for a very spicy taste. For some people, chili powder may not be the ideal substitute for paprika, but it is your best bet when your recipe cannot do without it.

Because paprika and chili powder have a distinguished flavor, it is feasible to start with a small amount. Use half a teaspoon of chili powder for one teaspoon of paprika, then add more if needed.

4. Chipotle Powder as a Paprika Substitute

Chipotle Powder
Chipotle Powder

When jalapeno peppers are dried and smoked, they are ground into chipotle powder. It tastes rather spicy than sweet. Jalapeno peppers mostly grow in South Texas and south of the New Mexico region. The name chipotle is derived from the ancient Aztec word chilpoctli, which means smoked chili.

A lesser-known fact about the chipotle powder is that nearly 10 pounds of fresh red jalapeno peppers are required to make one pound of dried chipotle. Jalapeno peppers are smoked instead of sundried due to their thick flesh. It is a long and tiring process.

On the Scoville Scale, chipotle peppers range between 2500 to 8000 SHU, while hot paprika is no more than 500 SHU. It has higher heat levels than both regular and hot smoked paprika. Chipotle powder is also darker in color as compared to paprika and that may affect the overall appearance of your dish.

If paprika is out of your reach and you want a workable solution, the chipotle powder can fill in. Since its base is dried jalapeno peppers you will get an earthy and smoky taste. But remember that chipotle is spicier than paprika, so make sure you use a low increment at first.

If you are not sure how much is feasible, start with 1/4th teaspoon of chipotle powder for one teaspoon of paprika. If you are aware of the heat levels and do not mind a hint of tex-mex in your food then use one teaspoon of chipotle powder for one teaspoon of paprika.

5. Aleppo Pepper Powder as Paprika Replacement

Aleppo Pepper Powder
Aleppo Pepper Powder

Aleppo pepper is a red spice originating from Syria and got its name from the city of Aleppo in northern Syria. It is also known as Halaby pepper.

Although it is not a spice rack staple, if you do have Aleppo pepper in your kitchen, it can work as a paprika alternative. Aleppo pepper is widely used in Middle Eastern and Turkish cuisine as a spice rub or sprinkled over salads and hummus (chickpea spread).

Aleppo pepper is a deep burgundy color and has an earthy flavor with moderate heat levels. It might taste a bit salty as salt is usually added during the drying procedure. Aleppo pepper looks like chili flakes, so it may be slightly visible in your food.

Aleppo pepper is an ideal smoked paprika replacement as it is spicier than regular paprika. To use in a recipe, start with 1/4th teaspoon and increase the amount gradually until you get the desired spice level.

Conclusion

Paprika is a wonder spice. It comes in various flavors, and each of these is unique and caters to different spice tolerance. Although paprika is readily available, you can always substitute it with the above-mentioned spices if you are short on time or do not want to make a trip to the grocery store. These substitutes will cover up for the taste and color without causing a noticeable difference in your recipe.

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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