Cooking With Paprika: The Dos And Don’ts

| Last Updated: September 5, 2019 |

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Paprika is known among cooks as much for its bright red color as for its fruity, sometimes smoky flavor. It is versatile enough to be a part of almost any dry rub and is a staple of deviled egg recipes. While you can find it in almost every spice cabinet, there are a few things you should know if you want to use paprika properly.  Let’s break down the dos and don’t of cooking with paprika.

Do add paprika early in the cooking process

Paprika’s color and flavor are both diminished the longer the spice is cooked. Add it near the end of your dish’s cooking time to get its full effect. 

Do use paprika liberally

Even the hot varieties of paprika are relatively mild. Add paprika in large amounts (relative to other spices) to get all that it has to offer. While it is possible to add too much of any spice, you run a lower risk of ruining your dish with paprika. 

Do learn about the different paprika varieties

Paprika comes in multiple varieties with different characteristics that can enhance or detract from a dish. It is a good idea to learn how each of these differs from the rest to ensure that you are getting what you want from the spice. For example, there are sweet and hot varieties of both Hungarian and Spanish paprika. There are smoky paprikas as well. The different versions may not always work equally well in all recipes. 

Do store paprika correctly

As with all powdered spices, you will want to be careful when storing paprika. Store it in an airtight container away from light. The fineness of the particles means increased surface area and thus a greater potential for the compounds that give paprika its flavor and color to evaporate.

If you don’t use all of a batch of paprika in six months, discard it and replace with fresh paprika to ensure that you get the best possible flavor and color. While all paprika is red, the spice is available in different shades of red. There is paprika that ranges from a very pale orange-red to a deep scarlet. The redder paprika is, the milder it is said to be; hotter paprikas are often made with cayenne pepper so the color is usually not as dark. 

Do try other forms of paprika

Paprika is best known as a powder but it comes as a paste as well. Try paprika in paste form to experience a different version of the spice. 

Don’t fry paprika on a high heat

Hungarian cooks begin many paprika-based dishes by placing the bright red spice into hot fat, which might be lard or some other type of cooking oil. Cooking it in fat is an excellent way to get it to release its flavor and color; however, you should be careful when attempting this.

Paprika burns very easily and will take on a bitter flavor and a dark color. It can go from brilliant red to a dark brown like coffee grounds in a matter of seconds; paprika burns quickly because of its high sugar content. Burned paprika will bring nothing good to a dish and should be discarded.

Cook paprika in oil over a low flame and keep stirring it. Don’t let it cook for too long before removing it from the heat. Another way to prevent burning is to add wine or another water-based liquid to the paprika.

Matt Bray

Matt Bray

Chief Chilihead at Cindermint
Founder of PepperScale and Cindermint LLC. Sucker for a good scotch bonnet. Spicy food super-fan. Current fiery fascination: Datil hot sauces.

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