What’s A Good Smoked Paprika Substitute?

So you have a recipe calling for smoked paprika, and there’s none on your spice rack? No worries – you’re not alone. Smoked paprika isn’t a staple, but the flavor is specific enough that when it’s needed finding the best smoked paprika substitute is smart. The right substitution will help maintain the intended flavors of a recipe.

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Smoked paprika – also known as Pimentón de la Vera (in Spanish paprika form) has a rich smoked chili pepper flavor that’s perfect for hearty meats and meals. It’s a spice that’s born for barbecue. That helps frame our best possible solutions.

The best alternative: Chipotle powder

Smoky? Check? Full-bodied? Check. Chipotle pepper powder is likely the closest thing you are going to find as a smoked paprika substitute in most spice racks. Chipotle powder is made from smoked dried jalapeño peppers, so that earthy tone that’s so important to the substitution is there in spades.

But know, you’ll also get some extra heat in the bargain. Smoked paprika is normally mild, made from chili peppers further down the Scoville scale than the medium heat jalapeño. Keep this in mind when considering ratios in your recipe. You may want to lower the amounts, or spice to taste, to make sure you’re not over-spicing.

The mad scientist mix: Chili powder or paprika with a dash of cumin or (plan c) liquid smoke

You can create smoked paprika’s mix of mild heat and smokiness by playing kitchen chemist. Pull out the beakers…err…a mixing bowl will do…and break out these kitchen cabinet staples. Chose one of either chili powder or regular paprika and one of either cumin or liquid smoke. It’s recommended to start 2:1 in terms of parts if you go with the powders. Two parts chili powder or paprika to one part cumin. If you opt for liquid smoke, a drop or two will likely do you. Start with a drop and flavor to taste.

Both cumin and liquid smoke give that smoky flavor that’s missing from regular paprika and chili powder. The cumin alternative will be the closest to smoked paprika. Opt for liquid smoke only if you have to, or if you’re making a soup, stew, or grill marinade that has a notable barbecue flair. It’s a strong hickory flavor, so it’s best to pair this substitution only with heavier foods.

Other alternatives

Cayenne pepper powder

This chili powder is much spicier than any alternative mentioned above, but cayenne pepper is readily available on many spice racks. Its flavor is overall neutral, but there’s a very slight smoky undertone to dried cayenne (simply from the drying process.) It’s nowhere near the smokiness you’d need for an optimal substitution, but sometimes it’s what you have at hand that matters most.

Just know: It’s a much hotter solution than anything else on this list (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units), so only opt for this if you love spice. Start with a third of the recommended smoked paprika amount in a recipe and move up from there.

Powdered guajillo pepper

Part of the holy trinity of Mexican hot peppers, guajillo pepper is a staple in rich mole sauces. It has a natural smoky and slightly sweet flavor. Powdered, it can make an interesting substitution. Though, it’s not a sub-in that’s likely at your fingertips.

And note, the heat of guajillo (2,500 to 5,000 Scoville heat units) is comparable to jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000 SHU). That level of spiciness may make guajillo. a no-go alternative for some.

Ancho pepper powder

Another Mexican dried chili that makes a worthy smoked paprika alternative when in powdered form. Ancho peppers are dried poblano peppers, and they are growing in popularity in the United States. They are milder than guajillo (but both are milder than a jalapeño), and slightly less smoky. Though, they are easier to find than guajillo as many supermarkets now carry ancho pepper or ancho powder.

The spice is just about right here, too. Ancho chilies are mild, ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units. It’s more of a solid warmth than a fiery spice, perfect for this substitution.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 21, 2022 to include new content.
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