What Are the Best Substitutes for Paprika?

When cooking, spices are so important. They add flavour, heat, colour and a whole lot of excitement to what might otherwise be a pretty bland dish.

Paprika is a common spice found in kitchens all over the world. It’s used in a whole host of different cuisines but what happens when you run out?

If you’re making a recipe that calls for paprika but don’t have any left then don’t panic! There are some other things you can use in its place. Which you choose will depend on the dish you’re cooking so let’s explore some of the best paprika substitutes that you may have in your kitchen cupboards.

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What Is Paprika?

Paprika is a spice powder that has a bright reddish, orange colour. However, there are varieties of paprika with different colours that can be any type of red, orange or even brown; these include sweet paprika and smoked paprika. The bright colour of the spice comes from a compound known as carotenoids.

The taste of paprika can vary depending on the type you’re using. However, there are typically those with a smoky flavour and others that can be bitter, earthy, sweet, hot and even have notes of most, tobacco and hay.

What Is Paprika Used For?

Paprika is incredibly popular around the world and, as such, is used in a number of different dishes and cuisines. Its most famous use is probably in the Hungarian goulash as well as the dish known as chicken paprikash.

However, a teaspoon of paprika spice is also favoured in a lot of Spanish and Mexican dishes and often features in the curries of India.

People love paprika both for its colour and taste. When added to a dish, it can alter the appearance and give it a burst of flavour.

What Can I Use Instead of Paprika?

While paprika is readily available in almost every food store in the United Kingdom, there are going to be times that you can’t get your hands on it. Or perhaps, you’re reading a recipe right now that requires paprika and it’s too late to pop to the shops but there’s none left in your kitchen.

Never fear! As with most foods, there are things you can use in its place. However, you have to keep in mind that what we’re trying to do here is replicate either the taste or the colour. None of these substitutes are going to taste and look exactly like paprika, but we can get pretty close.

Moreover, we’d also suggest considering the type of dish you’re making which will help you choose the best paprika substitute.

Chilli Powder

Most of us have chili powder in our kitchen and this is a powdered form of the chilli pepper. Usually, this spice is made from either cayenne or red peppers and comes in a range of heats. There’s mild chilli powder for those with a more sensitive palette or hot chilli powder if you prefer more of a kick.

Chilli powder is largely considered to be one of the best paprika substitutes out there and it’s bursting with flavour. However, if you want something super hot, then it’s probably not the right choice but you’ll be fine to add it in the same amount as paprika.

Cayenne Pepper

For those of you that like something a little hotter than paprika then cayenne pepper powder is a brilliant alternative. It’s much stronger flavoured and for this reason, you’ll probably want to add less of it than you would when using paprika.

However, while cayenne pepper isn’t a spot on match when it comes to taste, it is possible to mix it with something sweet as this will make it taste more like paprika. Something like honey is ideal but you might also want to add some cream or salt to dampen down the heat if you’re not a fan of super hot foods.

Hot Sauce

Hot sauce might be a different texture to paprika but it works really well as a substitute especially if you’re looking for something with more of a kick. It doesn’t have to just be hot sauce either, you can use any king of chilli or pepper sauce; whatever’s available to you!

When you’re making a dish where taste is more important than colour, hot sauce is a brilliant alternative to paprika. Just remember to choose one that fits in with your tastes or you may end up with something too hot or not hot enough.

Pimenton De La Vera

Pimentón de la vera is a powdered spice that’s got a very similar colour to paprika; kind of a brick red hue. While this powder does have a very smoky taste, there are different varieties between sweet and very hot so you can choose one to suit your personal taste.

This is ideal for adding a little heat to things like meat stews, particularly lamb or for livening up potatoes.

Black Pepper

Perhaps one of the most simple spices that all of us have in the cupboard, black pepper is a great alternative to paprika when the moment calls for it. You can use this if you want the peppery taste that paprika brings but aren’t too fussy about the colour of the dish. If you don’t have black pepper then white is fine too.

Cajun Seasoning

Cajun seasoning consists of several of the other foods on this list so it’s perfect if you want a really diverse blend of flavours. It’s usually made with black pepper, cayenne pepper and white pepper.

If you’re someone that doesn’t like a mind blowing amount of heat then cajun seasoning could be the best paprika substitute for you. While it does have a nice little kick, it’s not over the top and is comparable to chilli powder and not as hot as plain cayenne.

Chipotle Powder

Chipotle powder is made from dried chipotle powder and I think this is one of the best alternatives to smoked paprika since the smoky flavour is super intense. However, while it is smoky and hot, chipotle powder also has a certain sweetness to it which makes it ideal when you’re looking to bring a sweet flavour to your cooking.

Red Pepper Flakes

The flavour of crushed red pepper flakes can vary between spicy, hot and smoky. All of these things are qualities of paprika which makes it an ideal substitute. However, you have to keep in mind that these crushed red chilli flakes are much hotter than paprika so you won’t need to use as much; unless you want to really turn up the heat, of course.

Aleppo Powder

Where altering the colour of your dish is of the utmost importance, aleppo chili powder is perfect in place of paprika. This spice comes from the Middle East and has a rich red colour. It’s quite a bit hotter than paprika but not as hot as something like cayenne so it should be suited to most palettes. However, it’ll be down to your discretion to add as much or as little as you see fit.

Bell Peppers

If you fancy making your own paprika then you can use bell peppers to make an ancho chili powder but keep in mind that this is a little more time consuming than just reaching for something out of the cupboard.

To make ancho powder, you’ll need to take the stems out of your bell peppers before popping them into a food dehydrator. Get them to a point where they’re brittle and then put them into a cotton bag before you grind them.

If you don’t have a good dehydrator, you can achieve the same dried peppers by putting them into the oven at around 50ºC.

The great thing about using this method is that the bell pepper powder will be bursting with flavour and so much more fragrant.

Final Thoughts

Paprika might be one of the most common spices in the world but if you run out of it in the middle of cooking, you may be left wondering what to do. Fortunately, there are a number of other foods that you can use in place of paprika, most of which are pepper based. Other spices such as onion powder, garlic powder and cajun spice will also add tons of flavour.

It’s up to you whether you use just one of these paprika substitutes or a combination of several. It’s also fun to play around with quantities so you can give your dish that personal touch! the dried and ground fruit pods of a type of pepper called the capsicum annum. These peppers are super bright in colour and have a mild flavour compared to many other varieties.
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