Paprika is a powder made from grinding the pods of various kinds of Capsicum annuum peppers. Used for flavor and color, it is the fourth most consumed spice in the world and often appears in spice mixes , rubs, marinades, stews, chilis, and as a garnish. Depending on the variety of pepper and how it is processed, the color can range from bright red to brown and the flavor from mild to spicy. Therefore, it is helpful to know the distinct qualities that each type of paprika can bring to a dish.
"Regular" or "plain" paprika
Most of the paprika sold in grocery stores is simply labeled "paprika." Its origins may be Hungarian, Californian, or South American, and it is sometimes mixed with other chiles like cayenne. This paprika tends to be neither sweet nor hot and is a suitable garnish for things like deviled eggs or wherever you want some color.
Paprika is considered the national spice of Hungary and it appears in the country's most celebrated dish, goulash. Hungarian paprika is made from peppers that are harvested and then sorted, toasted, and blended to create different varieties. All Hungarian paprikas have some degree of rich, sweet red pepper flavor, but they range in pungency and heat.
Spanish paprika or pimentón
Although generally less intense that Hungarian paprika, Spanish paprika can range from dulce (sweet and mild) to agridulce (bittersweet and medium hot) to picante (hot), depending on the type of peppers used (round or long), whether the seeds are removed, and how they are processed. In Spain's La Vera region, farmers harvest and dry the chiles over wood fires, creating smoked paprika. Smoked paprika should be used in paella and dishes where you want a deep, woodsy flavor.
If you have a recipe that calls for paprika without specifying which kind, you can usually get by with using Hungarian sweet paprika. But also consider what type of color, sweetness, pungency, or heat you'd like to add and experiment with the wide world of paprika varieties!
Commercial food manufacturers use paprika to add color. If a food item is colored red, orange or reddish brown and the label lists "Natural Color," it is likely paprika. Paprika releases its color and flavor when heated. Thus, sprinkling ground paprika over colorless dishes may improve their appearance, but does little for their flavor. Similarly, if you want to color the contents of a dish, stir the paprika into a little hot oil before adding.
How to store: Paprika deteriorates quickly, so it should be purchased in small quantities and stored in a cool, dark place for no more than 6 months.
Matches well with: cauliflower, chicken, crab, fish, goulash, lamb, potatoes, rice, shellfish, stroganoff, veal. Sweet paprika is mild, and often appears in seasoning blends like Seasoning Salt (it's the main spice in Lawrey's Seasoned Salt) and for barbeque and chili or to dress pale dishes like deviled eggs. Many restaurants add it to chicken wings, baked chicken, ribs, and meatloaf. Hungarians love to use this spice in recipes like goulash and chicken paprikás, where the color alone is enough to warm the heart. But it is also popular in Indian, Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking. Smoked paprika brings a toasty hint of the grill, and makes a wonderful rub for pork and chicken when combined with dashes of cinnamon, sugar and salt.
I like paprika mostly for the color. I don't really find that it has a flavor intense enough to use much. I add it to my spicy mayo for sandwiches, I put it in tuna salad, and of course on deviled eggs.