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Paprika is a mild spice used to flavor and garnish different dishes. This powdered red spice is made from mild peppers and there are various forms which give slightly different flavor when used.
However, the sweet mild Hungarian paprika remains the gold standard for the spice. If your recipe calls for paprika when there is none left in your kitchen spice rack, then you can consider any of the available paprika substitutes. Maybe you just need to make things hotter and spicier, or are trying out new spices.
Finding paprika substitute should not be a daunting task as you will look no further than the popular spices you already know. Nonetheless, it is important to carefully consider your options as paprika comes in different levels of heat. Some of the substitute spices you can use include the following:
1. 100% Chili Powder (Ancho Powder)
Ancho Powder on the white plate
The standard paprika available in the market offers a mild but sweet flavor. When substituting it, you should go for powders that can retain the heat on simmer. Ancho powder offers an ideal alternative to paprika as their heat levels are quite close. The poblano peppers used in this powder are only slightly hotter than pimento pepper, the chili used to make paprika.
Although Ancho powder is not often a kitchen staple, it is readily available in a spice shop close to your house. You can also make online orders beforehand to have it in time for meal preparation.
It is important to note that Ancho powder has an element of smokiness which will definitely affect the dish but is still the number one choice paprika substitute to go for. It is made from 100% mild chili same as paprika and has the same distinct color.
2. Chili Powder
A Chili on the Chili Powder
Chili powder is one of the staples within your kitchen spice rack and you have probably already noticed how close it is to paprika. The difference is that paprika is a single-ingredient spice made from pimento pepper only while chili powder is made from different ingredients. Chili powder offers the same mild heat which is perfect substitution for paprika.
However, the earthly flavors from garlic powder and cumin will still linger causing a defined difference in the flavor. You should consider the recipe and dish in question before substituting paprika with chili powder. For dishes where dash/pinch paprika is only required for color and slight simmering heat, you may never tell the difference.
If the recipe requires defined paprika flavoring, then you should think about how cumin and garlic powder will affect the distinct flavor you intended to have. In such cases, you can go for Ancho which also offers a one-ingredient spice.
3. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne Peppers on the glass tray
This is a big step and only recommendable if you want more than just the heat in paprika. On the pepper scale, mild paprika reads between 500 and 1,500 SHU (Scoville Heat Units) while cayenne pepper notches between 30,000 and 50,000 SHU. This means your recipe will have a complete heat upgrade and a boost in spiciness.
If you do not want too much heat, you can cut cayenne pepper with equal part chili powder and Ancho powder. This will reduce the heat impact cayenne has on the dish, yet still provide the paprika bump you need. Cayenne pepper is perfect when you are looking to warm up a little and need a slightly different flavoring for your dish.
Note that cayenne is very spicy and you should not use more than a pinch. Also put into consideration the kind paprika required in the original recipe. Was it mild, smoky or hot? Cayenne is a great substitute for recipes that required hot paprika just as Ancho is the ideal option for recipes that needed mild paprika.
4. Aleppo Pepper Powder
A cup of Aleppo pepper and a spoon of Aleppo pepper
Aleppo pepper is another practical paprika substitute you can use especially if the original recipe required smoky paprika. Its heat level is comparable to high-end mild serano or jalapeno but nowhere as hot as cayenne pepper. It is also subtle and has a neutral flavor so the dish will not be so spicy.
However, Aleppo pepper powder has a lot of complexity as it has a tomato tang, is a little smokier and also contains other earthly flavors. Nonetheless, it does not result in a big difference and only a few people will tell the difference. Aleppo pepper is usually not easy to locate in your typical spice shops so you should start shopping online early enough if you plan to use it in your recipe.
Other Paprika Substitutes
Ancho, chili powder, cayenne pepper and Aleppo pepper powder are the four top substitutes for mild, hot and smoky paprika respectively. However, they are not the only alternatives you have in the market and some like Aleppo can be overwhelming to find and stack in your spice rack. If you want a substitute for smoky paprika and cannot seem to locate Aleppo, you can go for chipotle powder which perfectly replicates the spiciness and flavoring of smoky paprika in any recipe.
Other paprika substitutes you may consider as options for a change include Cajun spices and black pepper. They both offer mild flavoring and have heat levels close to paprika. Hot mild sauce can also replace paprika if you love to work with homemade ingredients. When looking for substitutes, make sure you understand what kind of paprika was intended in the recipe.
While paprika is known to be a flavor enhancer, it is just as much a garnish and one of its benefits is the final dish color you get when actual paprika is used. The defined red color is often perfect in deviled eggs and other such dishes so recipes that count on the garnishing benefits of paprika will need substitutes that retain the color. Black pepper for instance may not be ideal replacement in deviled eggs.
Paprika is a great kitchen spice that many people love especially because it has the right heat level, spiciness and flavor. It also acts as a garnish due to its distinct red color. Nevertheless, you will feel the need to make a change from time to time for different experiences.
Whether you are looking to increase spiciness and heat or just trying out new spices, it is important to carefully pick your paprika substitute just so you do not stray too far from the original recipe.