Sweet, Spicy, or Smoky: Which Type of Paprika Should You Use in Your Cooking?
Sweet, spicy, and sometimes smoky, paprika is forever associated with both the cuisine of Hungary and of Spain—and, of course, with the distinctive topping on Creamy Deviled Eggs. While paprika is the name for the spice made from dried and ground chiles, Capsicum annum or Caspsicum longum, in Spain the name is pimenton, which is the Spanish for pepper. Though chiles aren't technically peppers, in English we tend to use the words chile and pepper interchangeably because chiles were once used in place of black pepper which was imported from Asia.
There are several different types of paprika, and each is best-suited to different types of cooking. Here, we explain.
Call them what you may, the chiles used to make paprika originally came from the New World, specifically Southern Mexico, Central America, and the Antilles Islands. Kitty Keller, the founder of KL Keller Foodways, imports pimenton de La Vera and shares the legend that it was Christopher Columbus who brought the chiles to Spain. A gift for King Ferdinand, they made their way to monks in a monastery who grew them from seeds. Keller says part of the legend is that because the chiles didn't ripen properly, the monks smoked them, creating the famous pimenton de La Vera, from northern Extremadura in central Spain. A more likely story is that Franciscan monks returning from the Americas in the 16th century brought back seeds to plant along the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain and Extremadura. Smoked over oak, dried and ground, the Spanish paprika you find in small tins is available in sweet or dulce made from Bola chilies, hot or picante made from Jeromín, Jariza and Jaranda chiles, and bittersweet or agridulce made from Jaranda and Jariza chiles, which has a savory characteristic, somewhere in between sweet and hot.
It's the flavor you taste in Spanish chorizo and is used in lots of classic Spanish dishes including patatas bravas, gambas al ajilo, and more. Spanish pimenton de La Vera may not be labeled as smoked, but it is. The other paprika from Spain is made with the same chiles in Murcia, in eastern Spain where the hot, dry climate has traditionally allowed the peppers to be sun-dried.
In Hungary there are many kinds of paprika, but in U.S. grocery stores you will likely just find one version that either comes from Hungary or from California. Paprika is the Hungarian word for pepper, and Hungarian-style paprika is not smoked, but rather fairly sweet. It was the Turks who introduced the chilies to Hungary, and it's a very popular spice in Hungarian cuisine, giving distinctive flavor to soups and stews such as chicken paprikash and beef goulash.
Can You Use Hungarian Paprika in Place of Spanish?
Because it does not have a smoky flavor, it's best to not substitute Hungarian-style paprika in Spanish recipes. But if you are using paprika merely as a garnish on dishes, it's fine to use whichever you prefer. Most importantly, all paprika should be used six months to one year after purchase. Over time it will become bitter and lose its bright flavor. If you're looking to finish a tin of Spanish paprika, Keller suggests using it as a rub for grilled skirt steak, adding it to bean and sausage soup, mixing it into hummus or even shaking it on popcorn.