When you look at the plethora of red chili powders available, you may well be confused as to how similar or how different they really are. As for paprika and red chili powder, both are red, though of different shades, and look quite similar.
However, they are very different spices, with a very different flavor profile, taste and usage. Let us see how they are different and how they are similar.
The Plants are of the Same Family
Red chilies are part of the capsicum family. However, they are different from bell peppers, being thinner and narrower and come in a variety of sizes, length, breadth and colors. When they grow they may be green, red or yellow. Usually, when dried or aged, many of the green varieties turn red, though yellow pepper is different.
Most countries have their own variety of chili peppers, ranging from poblano, serrano, Tabasco, jalapeno, peri-peri, habanero, cayenne and numerous others. Originating in Mexico, the red chili made its way across the world and is used in many cuisines. Many varieties may also be used fresh and green or red or pickled instead of dried and powdered.
While paprika also comes from the capsicum plant, it is sweeter and milder than the hot varieties of red chili peppers. Though the paprika pepper is commonly used in Hungary and Spain, it also grows extensively in the US. Red peppers that are bright red in color when growing are typically sweeter and milder than the yellow or brown ones, which may be hotter.
The Heat Factor
The Scoville Heat Unit measures the heat factor chilies from different plants. Depending on the plant, its source and the brand, the SHU of Indian red chili powder ranges from 48,000 SHU (which is relatively mild) to 72,000 SHU (which is hot).
On the other hand, paprika is much milder and the SHU ranges from 100-1,500 SHU, again depending on the variety of the plant it comes from. As far as the heat factor is concerned, the Indian red chili powder is much hotter than paprika.
Different Paprika and Red Chili Powders
Paprika may be of varied qualities, heat and flavor. The spice is sometimes smoked for added flavor and taste. Some varieties are deep red, others are brownish red or lighter in color. The flavor may be light and delicate or strong and pungent.
Indian red chili powder is very different from the red chili powder that is available in American stores. These may actually be spice blends where the chili powder may contain onion powder, cumin powder, garlic powder and other spices, typically used in the dish called ‘chili’.
Indian chili powder is pure red chili powder, but it also comes with different spice and heat profiles. It may be bright red like the Kashmiri chili which does not have much heat, but adds color to the dishes. Or it may be hot, spicy and pungent, with colors ranging from dull red to brownish red.
How Different are the tastes of Red Paprika and Red Chili Powder?
The taste and flavor profile of red paprika is very different from that of red chili powder. Red chili powder has an earthy and pungent taste. It is rarely used alone, but added to other spices and condiments in any dish. Depending on the kind of red chili powder used, it brings some degree of heat to the food.
Red paprika has a sweeter and milder flavor. It may be smoked, which will give it a different flavor altogether. Additionally, Hungarian sweet paprika is milder than Hungarian hot paprika. The hot variety can be hotter than jalapeno. Spanish paprika comes in mild, medium and hot variants.
Usage of Red Paprika and Red Chili Powder
Red paprika powder is typically used in globally in many cuisines. It is a staple in Hungary, Spain, Portugal and western and eastern European countries. It is also used in Cajun and Creole foods. It may be used in
- Hungarian goulash
- Paprika chicken
- Mexican food
- Rice dishes
Red chili powder is a staple in Indian kitchens. The spice and heat factor of the powder used depends on the region and the food it is used in. It is an essential spice and used in numerous savory dishes. You will find red chili powder in
- Dry or wet cooked vegetables
- Bean and lentil dishes
- Meat, fish and chicken curries
- Marinades (such as tandoori and tikka masala)
- Rice dishes
- Stews and soups
Apart from Indian dishes, red chili powder is used in other south Asian and some far eastern Asian cuisines as well.
If you wonder whether you can substitute one for the other, the answer is yes. You would use a lot less red chili powder, even if it is of the milder variety, than you would paprika. In fact, the best way to go about this is add it slowly and in small amounts, till you get the heat factor that you want. In a pinch, you can use paprika instead of red chili powder as well, though you may not get the color that you want and the flavor may be different.
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