Paprika is a ground spice made from dried red peppers. It comes in three types—sweet, hot, and smoked—each providing varying degrees of heat. Regular paprika has a mild, sweet flavor and is the most commonly used type.
Sweet paprika can be used to season dishes or garnish salads and desserts. It provides a sweet, flavorful kick and enhances the overall appearance of the dish. You'll find it in many recipes—from savory stews, casseroles, and soups, to barbecue sauces, marinades, dry rubs, and hors d'oeuvres.
Since it is highly versatile, you might find out last minute that you've run out of this crimson-colored spice. If you do, some of the best paprika substitutes you can use in cooking are ancho chili powder, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cajun seasoning, bell pepper powder, and hot sauce.
Best Paprika Substitutes
1) Ancho Chili Powder
Ancho powder provides a sweet, mildly hot, smoky flavor and imparts a deep red hue to dishes. It packs a little more heat than regular paprika and has a hint of smokiness, but it remains a top paprika alternative.
To use ancho chili powder in place of paprika, start with half the amount of paprika required. Then, you can add more ancho powder and adjust it according to your preference or simply follow a ratio of 1:1.
However, not everyone may have ancho chili powder in their kitchens, so you might need to buy it on your next trip to the grocery store. If you do not have ancho powder and need a paprika substitute, other alternatives exist that you might already have at home.
2) Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper is a kitchen staple in many cuisines, and it will work as a sweet paprika replacement in a pinch. It provides almost the same color as paprika, but it packs a lot more heat than regular paprika does. Because of this, you will need to use less of it when replacing paprika.
Some people like to add a sweetener such as sugar or honey when using cayenne powder as a paprika substitute. Doing so lessens the cayenne pepper's heat while giving the hint of sweetness that paprika contains. If you still find the heat too overpowering, a little salt will do the trick.
For every teaspoon of paprika you need, begin with ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper and add more as needed. Remember to add a little sugar and salt if you prefer.
3) Aleppo Chili Powder
Aleppo chili powder has a complex taste; it's sweet, earthy, contains a hint of smokiness, and provides a tomato-like tang. It has moderate heat and a color similar to paprika. It may taste more complex than regular paprika, but it can work perfectly as a paprika replacement.
Aleppo pepper powder has less heat than cayenne pepper but more than regular paprika. Use ½ teaspoon of Aleppo chili powder for every teaspoon of paprika when substituting. Of course, you can also add more if you want the dish to pack a little more heat.
However, like ancho chili powder, Aleppo pepper is not a kitchen staple. You may use it as a paprika substitute if you have it or look for another substitute if you don't.
4) Chili powder
Chili powder is a blend of various ground spices, including paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and ground chiles. It has a little more heat than paprika, but you can use it as a paprika replacement.
If the recipe calls for a small amount of paprika, chili powder can be a great choice. Because chili powder is a blend of spices, it will introduce various flavors once used in a dish. So, to avoid the other spices from overwhelming the taste, start with ½ teaspoon of chili powder for every teaspoon of paprika and add more as needed.
Chili pepper will work best as a paprika replacement for garnish or for introducing color and a little heat.
5) Tomato Juice with Chili Powder
In some recipes, paprika is used only to add color to the dish. In this case, either tomato sauce or tomato juice can work as a great substitute. If only the red color is needed, simply replace the water or liquid with tomato sauce or tomato juice.
However, tomatoes alone will not be enough in recipes where paprika's smoky-sweet flavor plays an important role. While tomatoes may taste sweet, they lack the heat and smokiness that paprika provides. Adding a dash of chili powder to the tomato juice will do the trick.
When substituting, use a teaspoon of tomato juice mixed with a dash of chili powder for every teaspoon of paprika.
6) Cajun Spice
Similar to chili powder, cajun seasoning is a blend of various spices. It mainly consists of paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, garlic powder, ground black pepper, and ground white pepper, but it may also contain many other spices.
It has a rich, smoky flavor with hints of garlic and pepper. The cajun spice blend is regarded as an all-around seasoning as it works well with almost every dish.
As a paprika replacement, one teaspoon of cajun seasoning will do for every teaspoon needed.
7) Hot Sauce
Any spicy sauce primarily made from chilies is called hot sauce or chili sauce. Hot sauces come in varying heats, from warming to burning, so keep this in mind when using it instead of paprika.
Unlike tomato sauce, hot sauce should be used as a paprika alternative only if the taste is more important than the color. Hot sauce will not add a deep red color to the dish, but it will provide spice and flavor similar to paprika.
When using this as a paprika replacement, follow a 1:1 ratio and adjust as needed.
If you like Korean cuisine, you might already have gochugaru in your kitchen. It is also known as Korean chili powder, Korean chili flakes, red pepper flakes, and hot pepper flakes in English.
Gochugaru has a mildly spicy flavor with a hint of sweetness. It also has a reddish hue, which makes it similar to paprika in both flavor and color. However, since it is a Korean spice, not everyone will have it.
If you wish to use it instead of paprika, stick to a 1:1 ratio and add more as you need it. One teaspoon of gochugaru for each teaspoon of paprika will do for most dishes.
9) Black or White Pepper
If you have run out of options, either black pepper or white pepper can work as a paprika substitute. Black pepper is a kitchen staple, and while white pepper may be less commonly used, it is milder than black pepper and can also be used as a paprika substitute.
Using black or white pepper as a paprika substitute will not add the reddish hue, but it will add spice to the dish. Just like hot sauce, only use black or white pepper if the taste of the dish is more important than its color.
Replace each teaspoon of paprika with one teaspoon of cracked black or white pepper.
10) Bell Pepper Powder
Bell pepper powder is basically a homemade version of paprika. Although paprika is widely available, some people prefer to make their own spices so they can adjust it to their preferences.
To make your own paprika powder at home, you will need ripe red bell peppers. Remove all the stems, then place them in a dehydrator to dry until brittle. If you do not have a dehydrator, slice the red peppers, then put them in an oven preheated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit until dry.
Once all the peppers have dried, grind them whichever way you prefer. Sieve the ground peppers, then put the powder in an airtight container so it will last for up to one year. You might find it a pleasant surprise that this homemade paprika will be more fragrant, flavorful, and appealing than store-bought paprika.
Replace each teaspoon of paprika with two teaspoons of bell pepper powder.
11) Red Pepper Flakes
Red pepper flakes are a mixture of pepper flakes. Any spicy red peppers may be dried then ground to make red pepper flakes, but it often primarily contains cayenne pepper flakes.
The mixture has a hot, spicy flavor that sometimes contains a hint of smokiness, depending on what peppers it contains. Note that crushed red pepper flakes are hotter than paprika, so you must use less of it when substituting.
Additionally, red pepper flakes have a different color and texture than paprika. They are rarely ground and do not impart a bright red color, which may alter how your dish will look.
Overall, red pepper flakes are better substitutes for hot paprika or smoked paprika, but they will do if you are left with no choice. Simply use ⅓ to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes for each teaspoon of paprika.
Check out the best paprika substitutes along with their unique characteristics with this summary table.
|Ancho Chili Powder||The closest substitute for paprika, though mildly hotter. Not a kitchen staple.|
|Cayenne Pepper||Hotter than regular paprika, but you can add sweetener and a little salt for a similar taste.|
|Aleppo Chili Powder||Packs a little more heat than paprika but less than cayenne pepper.|
|Chili powder||A blend of various spices that has a similar color and heat as paprika.|
|Tomato Juice with Chili Powder||Tomato juice adds color while a dash of chili powder provides heat.|
|Cajun Spice||An all-purpose spice blend that contains paprika. It will work in a pinch.|
|Hot Sauce||Provides spice and flavor but will not add color to the dish.|
|Gochugaru||Similar in flavor and color but not readily available in stores.|
|Black or White Pepper||Provides spice and enhances flavor but will not add color to the dish.|
|Bell Pepper Powder||Homemade paprika whose flavor you can adjust to your liking.|
|Red Pepper Flakes||Different in color and texture but can work as a paprika substitute in a pinch.|
Kashmiri red chili or degi mirch has a bright red color that it can impart in dishes, similar to paprika. It has a moderate heat and a sweet, slightly smoky flavor.
Kashmiri chilis are a staple in Indian cuisine and, in powdered form, this Indian spice could serve as a great substitute for paprika. It is commonly used in curry, soups, stews, and dry rub.
Yes, you can use cumin as a paprika substitute. It has a similarly sweet, smoky, and earthy flavor that paprika has. However, cumin is hotter than paprika and has a yellowish tinge.
If the reddish hue of paprika is a priority in the dish, use a different paprika substitute instead. Since cumin is spicier than paprika, start with ½ teaspoon of cumin for every teaspoon of paprika required and adjust as needed.
Regular paprika, or simply paprika, is the same as sweet paprika and mild paprika. It is the most commonly used type of paprika, which is why it is often referred to as simply "paprika." Often, bottles labeled as "paprika" contain sweet paprika.
Regular paprika and smoked paprika have different flavors, uses, and heat levels. Whereas regular paprika has a sweet, slightly smoky flavor, smoked paprika has a richer, heavier flavor commonly found in barbecues.
Smoked paprika powder works best in hearty recipes, while sweet paprika shines in lighter dishes. For a barbecue dry rub or marinade, smoked paprika will work wonders. For garnish, regular paprika will do.
Lastly, smoked paprika can contain mild to intense heat, while regular paprika has little heat.
Paprika powder is used in various dishes worldwide. It is most often used to season and add its reddish hue to dishes, but some also use it as a garnish for light foods. In the United States, it is mostly used for the latter, but it imparts more of its flavor under heat.
Paprika is versatile; you'll find it in many recipes, including savory stews, fried rice, casseroles, soups, barbecue sauces, marinades, dry rubs, and red curry powder. Many chefs also use it to garnish salads, desserts, and hors d'oeuvres.
In a dry rub, you can use ancho chili powder, cumin, regular chili powder, or cayenne pepper as a paprika substitute. However, chili powder and cayenne pepper are hotter than paprika, so make sure to use less of either.
The best paprika substitute will depend on what recipe you'll be using it for. In most cases, ancho chili powder will work best as it resembles paprika the most—whether in flavor, texture, and color. You can use ancho chili powder instead of paprika in a 1:1 ratio.