What Does Paprika Taste Like?

By Forrest •  Updated: 05/06/21 •  11 min read

Understanding and describing what does paprika taste like can be a challenging question. There are several different varieties of paprika including sweet, hot, and smoky. While the different types of paprika certainly have different flavors to them, they all have the same basis ultimately.

When someone asks you what does paprika taste like it can be hard to answer them! It’s a distinct flavor but how exactly would you describe it? In this post, I’ll explore what does paprika taste like and give you a description and understanding so you know exactly what to expect. Let’s get started!

What is Paprika

Generally speaking, if your recipe calls for paprika, it typically means sweet paprika. However, you really can’t go wrong if you use hot paprika or smoked paprika instead sweet paprika instead. The different types of paprika certainly host different flavors and while recipes usually mean sweet when they say “paprika”, it doesn’t mean you will ruin your dish when you use a different option.

So what exactly is paprika? Obviously, it’s not just an herb that is ground up, it is made from other items and combined into a spice that you can use for a distinct note of flavor. Paprika is made from red pepper flakes, most commonly from red bell peppers. The original regular paprika comes from capsicum annuum. Variations now contain bright red dried peppers but they may use other peppers for the flavor.

Depending on where and how it is made, paprika might also contain cayenne pepper or chili peppers. The spice blends can change, which is why you can go from mild flavor to smoky taste and then some other options as well. The variations obviously will lead to varying flavors. In general, most paprika is made with milder peppers that have thin flesh but this is not always the case.

Interestingly enough, a lot of time paprika is used for the color rather than the flavor but it does have flavor. Paprika in things like potato salad is used for the appearance more than the taste. This is where sweet paprika typically comes into play. They use a sweet pepper so the paprika flavor is mild compared to some of the other compilations.

Sweet Hungarian paprika is very popular and this is really where the paprika origins began. Spanish paprika took this sweet option and tossed in some chili powder to bring a hot paprika. Of course, then there are selections that add chipotle powder to bring you the smoky flavor.

The paprika taste of basic paprika is mild for the most part and again, is more often used to add some color to the dish more than for the rich flavor, although that is a beneficial side effect. That sprinkled paprika on deviled eggs is probably just a sweet paprika or possibly smoked paprika – and it’s mostly for looks.

What Does Paprika Taste Like

Are you confused yet on what does paprika taste like? We can only imagine that you are incredibly confused from the explanation of what paprika is. A lot of people compare it to chili powder and it might be similar in some ways. However, if bell pepper is used, then the flavor can quickly change.

How paprika tastes will really mostly depend on how it is made so this is something to know and be aware of. Here’s what you should know. No matter which type of paprika you use, they all use some sort of dried red pepper to be made. The type of red peppers can vary, leading to spice level that can change as well as a twist to classic dishes that you may not be expecting.

If a pepper has a spicier flesh than your paprika may be spicy. The red stuff doesn’t always come from the same pepper, which can be incredibly confusing. If a bonnet pepper or bell peppers are used, you’re more likely to have a semi sweet flavor.

Sweet is the most common variety of this spice. If you have spice in your spice shop and you aren’t sure if it is sweet, smoky, or hot, you can assume it is that unless labeled otherwise. Things like Hungarian goulash and other Hungarian cuisine commonly call for this spice cabinet item and they mean Hungarian paprika, which is sweet and is more commonly a colorful garnish.

These spices only differentiate in flavor based on the pepper used. Sweet paprika uses a sweeter pepper and is very mild in flavor. Smoked paprika uses chipotle and similar peppers and are popular in South America and other similar cuisine and is smoked over oak fires to create that smoky flavor. Hot paprika really is spicy and they make it with spicier peppers. This is most popular in Spanish cuisine.

Many dishes will specify paprika and other spices like black pepper based on the type of dish you’re enjoying. It’s a fine powder so it’s easy to mix and use, just be sure to understand which one you are using.

Since paprika is made with peppers, it will have a peppery flavor more than anything else.

Related: What Does Eggplant Taste Like?

Types of Paprika

What are the Main Types of Paprika

We’ve talked slightly already about the different spice options for paprika but let’s break it down just a little more and focus on these differentiations. There are 3 primary options to be used for any home cook dishes when it comes to this spice. Your recipe will specify if you need a specific type. If it does not specify, plan to use regular (or sweet) as your option. Additionally, unless the packaging specifies, this is the default so that is what you have unless labeled otherwise.

Here are the 3 main paprika types to know about.

Sweet or Hungarian Paprika

We hope we don’t sound like a broken record but we want to make sure we are clear with this illustration. This is the original flavor and the most popular choice. To be very real, the flavor is very light and medium overall. The red will stand out in dishes and might provide a slightly rich hint to the flavors.

The tricky part to discern here is what peppers will be in what blend. The problem is that it isn’t consistent. In this instance, the veggie used can be any with a sweeter flavor and not a lot of heat. This could be bell, poblano, or any number of other cloying options.

The secret? Red and cloying peppery options and any of them will do! In the end, you have a mix of fruity and bitter that bring out just the right tastes. California paprika will generally fall into this category

Smoked Paprika

Smoked paprika is really all about how the peppery varieties are treated. It might be a little on the spicy side rather than cloying, but those red gems are dried in a dark place and smoked using oak fires to create a smoky aroma and taste that is just a touch on the spicy side. On the same note, smoky paprika can also be made with the more cloying and fruity selections also so be sure to check out the labels.

For the most part, the smoky blend is used simply for adding a smoky delightfulness to a dish. It gives you a hint of smoke without having to actually smoke whatever it is you are creating and preparing. No amount of onion powder could ever create the same aroma or tastiness to compare.

Spicy or Hot Paprika

Finally, the final option is a spicy one. This blend again could use several different red peppery options but they all have something in common – they are spicy. The level of spice might vary so check the labels to get a feel for what it is you’re getting.

The options used in a spicy paprika include things like chilies, cayenne, poblano, and even some other choices out there. It might be hot and fiery or it might be hot and smoky or it might even just be slightly hot. If you check the label, you will know exactly what is used so you can have some idea of what to expect when you add it to your dish.

This is designed to be extra spicy by choice and a little bit will go a long way here. It is used primarily to pack some heat into a dish so keep that in mind if you choose to try it out.

What is Paprika Used For

How is Paprika Used

If you’re following a recipe and think that you can just ignore that line that says paprika, think again. Many people fall under the misconception that it is used only to add color to a dish. While this may be true of some cuisine options, it really is not the majority. It does have its own unique tastes and will add to the authenticity and overall end result of whatever you happen to be making. It has some rich addition to it that really will finish out a meal nicely.

If you’re following a recipe, follow the measurements recommended. It can and is used in a lot of different manners. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s chili powder or that you can just replace paprika with the likes of that. They are very different in the end.

Let’s talk a few of the most popular uses.

Chicken Paprikash

You really cannot beat this delightful meal. It is a Hungarian delight made with chicken, egg noodles, sour cream, other spices, and of course paprika. It’s completely creamy and rich and packed with delicious and robust tastes.

This is a popular meal that really has a focal point around paprika. You cannot make it without it and have it turn out properly. You notice the name is even a spin on the spice that is used.

Deviled Eggs

This particular delight uses paprika to add to the overall tastiness of them but it is more used for garnish or color in this case. People sprinkle just a bit over the top of the eggs to complete them with a touch of color but also just that added hint of richness in the taste that comes from it. It’s not enough to alter it that much but just enough to perfect it.


Yep, that slightly sweetly but rich taste in your mouth from the goulash sauce comes straight from the paprika. In this case, it’s original and cloying but might also be smoky if you like it that way.

Just so you are aware, these are just some basic examples. There are far more options out there and you can really use it in just about any manner or creation that you come up with.

Is Paprika Healthy?

The nice thing to know is that paprika comes from peppery veggies. It’s not a bunch of fake stuff and preservatives. These are low calorie options and they do have some additional benefits, which means paprika has some health benefits that you can enjoy.

Here are some great nutrition facts for you to keep in mind.

Final Thoughts on What Paprika Tastes Like

When it comes down to it, there is just no simple way to answer what does paprika taste like? Whether you get hot paprika, smoked paprika, or some other blend, you can count on a unique taste that really is set apart and unique to this particular spice creation. There is not a replacement that is exactly the same and you should never just skip it when you’re creating a meal.

Overall, you will get a peppery taste but you also might get some smokiness or some spiciness as well, depending on the type of paprika that you use or enjoy when you put it to the test. Count on it to be rich and possibly cloying at the same time.