Hungarian Paprika Vs. Spanish Paprika – How Do They Compare?

While paprika is produced and used all over the world, this spice is most often identified with two specific national food cultures: Spanish and Hungarian. In both cases, the peppers used to make paprika have their origin in Central America but have taken on different characteristics as a result of two distinct European growing environments and processing methods. You will need to weigh those characteristics when deciding which spice is right for a particular dish. Let’s dive into the similarities and differences.

How does Spanish paprika differ from Hungarian paprika?

Spanish paprika is more commonly associated with smoky flavors. This is because the la Vera variety of Spanish paprika is made from peppers that are often smoke-dried alongside tobacco leaves. While not all varieties of Spanish paprika are smoked, the ones that are most widely used outside of Spain are. Usually, the smoky flavor is what people want when they seek out a Spanish paprika.

Spanish paprika has fewer varieties than Hungarian paprika. Smoked and unsmoked Spanish paprika can be placed into one of three flavor profiles: sweet (dulce), bittersweet (agridulce), and hot (picante).

Hungarian paprika has numerous varieties that each have their own specific flavor profile and appearance. The variety that is most commonly exported to the rest of the world is the edesnemes variety. Other varieties that are more popular in Hungary include the special quality variety called kulonleges, the eros variety that is also the hottest Hungarian paprika along with the intensely red csipmentes csemege variety.

If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?

Many dishes that require paprika need it for its appearance rather than for its flavor. In those cases, the sweeter and unsmoked varieties of both Spanish and Hungarian paprika can make great substitutes for each other.

For example, you can swap the dulce and edesnemes varieties without any dramatic differences in the final flavor profiles of most dishes. Similarly, unsmoked picante Spanish paprika and hot (eros) Hungarian paprika can be interchangeable in many cases. You cannot replace Hungarian paprika with smoked Spanish paprika in Hungarian dishes if you want to maintain an authentic flavor profile; however, you probably will not ruin the dish with the swap.

It gets trickier when you try to replace smoked Spanish paprika with Hungarian paprika. It’s not ideal as a 1:1 substitution (again, the lack of smoky undertones), but you may be able to come up with a workable substitute by combining the edesnemes or kulonleges Hungarian paprika with liquid smoke or some other source of smokiness.

When should you use Spanish paprika? And when should you use Hungarian paprika?

While the unsmoked Spanish paprikas are less distinctive and more easily replaced, popular Spanish dishes like paella and patatas bravas often rely on smoked Spanish paprika for their flavor profiles.

Similarly, you should opt for a sweeter Hungarian paprika like the kulonleges variety if you want to make a true Hungarian goulash or chicken paprikash. Generally speaking, you will use each nation’s paprika in its cuisine if you want to preserve a traditional flavor profile.

You can also use smoked Spanish paprika in any dish that would benefit from a smoky flavor without having to cook that dish on the grill or use liquid smoke. Unsmoked Spanish paprika and sweet Hungarian paprika can be used to add flavor and color to dry rubs and to any other preparation where a domestic paprika would otherwise be used.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 2, 2022 to include new content.
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Paella rarely (if ever) contains paprika (pimentón). There are many other examples of paprika-filled dishes: sopa castellana (soup), pulpo a la gallega (octopus), cocido madrileño (stew)…