They say that man has three basic needs: shelter, clothing, and food. Out of the three, food is an essential commodity we all need to survive the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As much as we need food to live, we also need spices to give the food we eat that nice kick and much-needed flavor. Did you know that spices have been used by people from all around the world for thousands of years? Spices are not only known to add seasoning, but they also possess microbial properties.
Out of all the spices, pepper is probably one of the most popular flavorings used in the kitchen. Peppers come in all sorts of forms, and paprika is a kind of pepper that, if you love cooking, should be a staple in your spice rack.
But what do you do when you run out of paprika, and a recipe calls for it? Can other peppers take paprika’s place in a dish?
What is Paprika?
Before diving into what paprika alternatives are available for you, let’s learn more about paprika first.
A member of the Capsicum Annuum species, paprika is a finely ground pepper of different varieties. Its powder ranges from red to rusty brown, depending on the variety of pepper used. Red peppers (also known as pimiento) are ripened to perfection before being pulverized into the spice we know and love today. Its flavor ranges from mild to fiery. It gives you the option of whether your dish needs a slight boost of flavor or a kick that will leave you sweating.
Paprika was cultivated thousands of years ago in what is now Brazil and Bolivia. Famous explorer Christopher Columbus discovered the spice and brought some back to Europe where it gained popularity. Pretty soon paprika became a staple seasoning in Spanish and Hungarian dishes.
There are three paprika varieties it matters a whole lot which one you want to use in a dish.
- The regular paprika we buy is called sweet paprika. It has a sweet pepper flavor and adds vibrant color to your dish. It isn’t spicy, so when the recipe doesn’t really specify what kind of paprika to use, go for this one.
- We have the smoked paprika also known as the Spanish paprika or pimenton is made of peppers that have been smoked and dried, giving it a smoky zest. This variety of paprika comes from specific growing regions in Spain. Just like the sweet paprika, the smoked paprika is doesn’t add heat to your dish.
- Finally, we have hot paprika or Hungarian paprika. As the name suggests, this variety is more on the spicy side and comes from Hungary. Hot paprika is a very common spice in Hungarian cuisine and is used mainly to add flavor, instead of just adding color to a dish.
Now that we’ve learned a thing or two about this well-known spice (it’s the top four most used spice in the entire world) let’s get to know how to gauge if a pepper can replace paprika in a recipe. Introducing the Scoville Scale.
The Scoville Scale
Now that we’re talking about different peppers, we might as well talk about the Scoville Scale.
Have you noticed that when we eat different spicy food, we can distinguish which dish is spicier (or less spicy) than the other? To be able to describe how spicy a pepper is accurately, someone came up with a scale that measures each pepper’s pungency or spiciness.
It all started in 1912 when a pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville developed the Scoville organoleptic test. It tested dried peppers dissolved in alcohol. The alcohol draws out the “heat” of the peppers then this mixture is then diluted into a solution of sugar water. There were five professional tasters (yes, that was an actual job) who tested the heat intensity of the pepper in question.
Many argue that while the test was a unique indicator of how spicy a pepper might be, the Scoville organoleptic test was flawed in one way: different people will always have varying opinions about the peppers. What could be spicy to one, may not be so hot to the other. Still, we have to thank Wilbur Scoville for even coming up with such a test!
Peppers have their own unique unit of measurement, and it is called the Scoville Heat Unit or SHU. In the scale, SHU ranges from 0 (sweet peppers) to a whopping three million (pepper x)!
Capsaicin – Pepper’s Power
Chili peppers have capsaicin, an active component that gives us that burning sensation whenever we eat something spicy. It was the driving force behind the Scoville Scale development and is the reason behind peppers’ pungency.
Here’s a fun fact: capsaicin is generally an irritant and birds seem to be the only animals immune to its burning properties. This is the reason why birds are the reason why peppers keep cropping up everywhere. Birds eat the pepper, including the seeds, and digests it. The droppings are then full of the seeds and are surrounded by nitrogen-rich fertilizers.
There are many health benefits when you consume capsaicin: It is a natural pain reliever, improves your metabolism, and may even cure heartburn and clear ear infections, among others.
Ancho Chili Powder
A favorite paprika substitute in this list, ancho chili powder is ground up dried, ripened poblano peppers. The Aztecs have been grinding pepper and are known to have cultivated poblano peppers. They preserved the peppers by drying and used the powder to flavor food, including chocolate.
Poblano peppers are only considered ancho chili once they have ripened and dried. They are deep red in color and have wrinkled skin, just like a raisin. Poblano peppers originated in the Pueblo state of Mexico. The ancho chili powder is slightly spicier than the paprika and has 1000-1500 SHU.
The ancho chili is a family-friendly chili. It has a fruity taste with earthy notes. Because of its mild taste, ancho chili can be layered with other spices like cinnamon and cumin to give your dish more dimension. Ancho chili also possesses medical benefits because it has capsaicin (much like many other peppers). It can provide pain relief since it releases endorphins, the happy hormone; suppress appetite and aid in weight loss, and even prevent prostate cancer because there has been research suggesting that capsaicin kills prostate cancer cells. Whew!
Because cayenne pepper is hotter than paprika (it has 30,000-50,000 SHU), it is essential to use this spice sparingly and if you’re willing to give your cooking that heat upgrade.
Did you know that cayenne pepper actually means “pepper pepper”? The word cayenne is thought to have originated from the word quiínia which means “pepper” in the Old Tupi language of Brazil. Others say that the pepper got its name from the region of Cayenne in French Guiana.
Regardless of where it got its name from, cayenne is also famous for its health benefits. Many people swear by its medicinal properties. One tablespoon of cayenne contains vitamins AND minerals. Health benefits include boosting your metabolism, lowering your blood pressure, and aiding digestive health. These are good enough reasons to use cayenne pepper more in your cooking.
Confused between chili powder and paprika? Don’t worry, you are not alone. Because the two powders look quite similar, and some people interchange the two spices in recipes, chili powder and paprika have had some sort of identity crisis in the kitchen.
Technically speaking, both come from dried peppers. However, what sets chili powder is that it is a combination of different flavorings. So aside from dried peppers, chili powders usually have garlic powder, cayenne pepper and yes, even paprika thrown in the mix.
Paprika, as you know by now, is one hundred percent dried peppers. In terms of taste, chili powder has a more dynamic flavor because of the extra spices. It is spicier and lands on the Scoville scale at 1000 to 1500 SHU. Whether chili powder can take the place of paprika in a recipe is entirely up to you. As both powders generally have the same base (dried peppers), using chili powder as a paprika substitute won’t be that big of a deal. If your tastebuds can take the added spice from the chili powder, then go ahead and use it.
Aleppo Pepper Powder
Aleppo pepper is paprika’s Middle Eastern cousin. It is a common condiment in Armenia, Syria, and Turkey and is slowly being recognized in the US as a paprika substitute. The Aleppo pepper powder starts off as burgundy colored pods and goes through a drying, de-seeding, and grounding or crushing process. The pepper got its name from the city of Aleppo in Syria.
Aleppo pepper powder has a similar flavor to ancho chili and falls under the same range in the Scoville scale too. Aleppo pepper is just slightly salty since salt is added to the process of producing it. This product can be found in specialty groceries, especially those that sell Middle Eastern products, so finding one to replace paprika might be a bit challenging for you. You might as well buy it on Amazon. Dishes that you might want to add a tinge of heat will go well with Aleppo peppers.
How does making your own paprika substitute sound? Believe it or not, you can! Bell peppers and paprika both have a sweet taste and this simple method can quickly be done at home. All you need are well-repined bell peppers. Begin by removing the stem of each of the bell pepper and cutting them into strips.
If you have a dehydrator, use it until the peppers become brittle. You can also use your oven. Place the pieces of bell pepper on a baking sheet and bake at 120 degrees Fahrenheit until brittle as well. The purpose of this is to draw out the moisture of the pepper and to make it as dry as possible.
Once the strips have been dried, they are now ready to be ground up into powder. Make sure to sieve the powder before using it. This bell pepper powder is more fragrant and flavorful than paprika, plus you can easily do this in the comfort of your own home.
You can use 2 teaspoons of bell pepper powder for every 1 teaspoon of paprika.
As you explore other alternatives to paprika, always remember that each pepper has its own unique flavor profile and can significantly affect the outcome of any recipe. Choose a substitute that will work best with the dish. Try to imagine if a mild flavor is all it needs, or it could use some heat. Usually when a recipe calls for paprika, the ingredients
It is always best to have a well-stocked kitchen so it can never hurt to have paprika readily available in your spice rack. Though these alternatives can give your dishes fun and different taste, nothing will beat the power of paprika.