Paprika is a fundamental spice and one that you should have in your spice cabinet even if you are just a casual cook. It is right up there with black pepper and salt. Not only does paprika offer a deep and distinctive flavor, it adds a bright color and major health benefits. Consider the fact that paprika is an excellent source of vitamin C. This spice comes in multiple varieties so that your options include hot paprika as well as Spanish smoked paprika, each of which can add something special to your dish. Does paprika’s unique role mean that there are no options if you have none of it on hand? Of course not. Let’s review a selection of paprika alternatives that will do the job.
Your best bet: Ancho chili powder
Do not confuse this spice with generic chili powder, which contains other spices along with ground chili peppers. Ancho chili powder is made entirely from sweet dried chilies and provides a rich, mildly fruity flavor with earthy notes. An ancho chili is the dried poblano pepper known for its use in chile relleno and other Mexican favorites. Ancho powder’s flavor is very similar to that of paprika, which also originated in Central America. Some ancho chilies are smoked; you can use the smoky varieties of ancho powder as a substitute for Spanish smoked paprika; however, note that the smokiness is subtle so you may have to adjust your quantities to compensate.
There is not much of a heat level with ancho powder, so you may need another alternative if you want a substitute for a hotter paprika. Similarly, ancho powder is a darker red than paprika and may not be the ideal substitute if you need paprika’s bright hue.
A decent second choice: Cayenne powder
Made from a moderately hot Guianese pepper, cayenne powder is a versatile spice that can be an effective stand-in for paprika. Widely used in both Latin American and Asian cuisines, it can add a moderate level of heat to dishes. In addition to the heat, it has a bright red color that is similar to that of paprika. If you are looking to add color to your dish, cayenne will do it; however, be careful with regard to the heat. Note that the hottest paprika scores 15,000 on the Scoville scale while some cayennes score as high as 50,000. When using cayenne powder as a paprika substitute, start with small amounts and adjust to taste.
In a pinch (but may be hard to find): Aleppo chili powder
Aleppo peppers come from Syria; they are a popular spice in several Middle Eastern countries’ cuisines. Aleppos have a bright acidity with a very noticeable earthiness. Their heat is mild but lingers. Aleppo peppers are a bright red like paprika but they are typically sold as flakes, not a powder. The coarse texture of flakes may not be ideal for all applications.
You can use chili powder in place of paprika, but only in some dishes. The other spices in chili powder blends may not work in all dishes that require paprika. If all that you need is something to give your dish a red color, tomato paste may be able to do the job. Simply add tomato paste until your dish reaches the desired shade.