Is Paprika Spicy?

So is paprika spicy? It all depends. Paprika is a deep, red-colored spice that, according to Encyclopedia Britannicais made by grinding up the pods of red peppers that hail from Capsicum annuum, a member of the nightshade family. But not all paprika is equal in heat. According to Cooking Light, there are three different types of paprika: sweet, smoked, and hot. The intensity of the spiciness of paprika depends on the pepper used to create it and where that pepper measures on the Scoville scale. 

The Scoville scale is like a thermometer that measures how hot a pepper is, and is named for the man who invented it, Wilber Scoville. How does this scale measure a chili pepper's burn? explains, "An alcohol extract of capsaicin oil is obtained from the dried test pepper. This oil is then diluted with sugar water at differing concentrations and sampled by 'taste testers'. The pepper is then assigned a Scoville Heat Unit with respect to the dilution required for the 'burn' to no longer be sensed." Still confused? Per PepperScale, a bell pepper sits at the bottom of the scale and requires no sugar water to offset its heat, while a jalapeño measures in at 2,500 to 8,000 heat units. This means a mashed up jalapeño would need to be diluted anywhere from 2,500 to 8,000 times for the taster to no longer feel that fire in their mouth.

Sweet and smoked paprika don't pack a spicy punch

The run of the mill paprika bought at the grocery store and found in your average spice cabinet is usually of the sweet variety. Dip your finger into that small container of McCormick paprika and taste. It will have a distinctive mild, warm, and slightly sweet taste. This type of paprika is going to be at the bottom of the Scoville scale and doesn't pack the punch thrill seekers might desire. It is generally the type of paprika you will use when you make your grandmother's deviled eggs recipe or to brighten your Sunday picnic in the park potato salad.

Smoked paprika is just that, smoked. It's fragrant and subtle. Smoked paprika is often called the Spanish cousin to sweet paprika, according to The Kitchn. While it generally sits pretty low on the Scoville scale for spice, Cooking Light notes that there are definitely variations of heat with smoked paprika. This largely depends on the type of pepper smoked and ground to create this vibrant red powder. Smoked paprika is great if you are making paella or chicken recipes. 

Hot paprika, unsurprisingly, can have some heat

That leaves hot paprika. Hot paprika can be spicy, but according to Bon Appétit, it also has a range of intensity. Hot paprika is generally referred to as Hungarian paprika and is used to make anything from goulash to a spicy margarita that can leave your mouth en fuego. Paprika, in its spiciest form, is a hallmark of Hungarian cooking. Hungarian paprika is generally considered to be the best paprika, the gold standard in heat, color, and taste for paprika aficionados. As for heat level, it can come it at up to 1,000 Scoville units, according to Chili Pepper Madness, which is similar to a poblano or ancho pepper.