The answer: It depends…
It may be a surprise to some that paprika, one of the most common spices in the kitchen cabinet, comes from hot peppers. But is paprika spicy?
The answer is a little more complex than you may think. Sure a lot of paprika starts with a mild chili, the pimento, but paprika is a spice that can come in a lot of different varieties, each with its own level of heat to it.
How hot is normal store-bought paprika?
No better place to start than what you typically find. If you’re at the store and you come across plain paprika in your spice aisle, chances are it’ll carry a pretty mild heat. This type typically has a mild chili base (like pimento powder, as mentioned). It may sometimes be cut with a spicier chili, like cayenne pepper, but more often than not regular paprika won’t top 100 to 500 on the Scoville scale. That’s at the very least four times milder than a jalapeño.
How hot is Hungarian paprika?
This is where it can get a little tricky. Paprika is a staple of Hungarian cuisine, and Hungarian paprika can be as complex as the food it spices. There’s a range, like the Scoville scale itself. The most common you’ll find in the United States is Hungarian sweet paprika, which has a mild pungency to it. You’ll also find Hungarian hot paprika. It can range to near cayenne pepper levels of heat, or four times hotter than a jalapeño.
The Hungarian paprika scale, ranging in heat from mild to hot:
- Különleges (sweet and mild)
- Csípősmentes csemege
- Csemege paprika
- Csípős csemege
- Édesnemes (the typical U.S. Hungarian Sweet Paprika, still sweet with very mild heat)
- Erős (hottest, most pungent)
How hot is Spanish paprika?
To add more complexity to paprika the spice, Spanish paprika also comes in various levels of heat. It’s not as complex as its Hungarian counterpart, but you’ll still find paprika in mild form (dulce), medium (agridulce), and hot (picante).
Which paprika should you choose?
That’s really dependent on the recipe and the need. It’s good to have a general paprika or a Hungarian sweet paprika as a staple in the spice cupboard. They are the most all-purpose. But if you’re looking for bringing some authentic flavor to your Hungarian or Spanish dishes, or you simply like your spices on the hotter side, then you may want to pick up a more pungent paprika variety. No matter what, paprika is a spice no kitchen should be without!