How we tested
Smoked paprika is a specialty of Spain, where ripe red chile peppers are dried slowly, according to tradition, over smoldering oak fires for upwards of two weeks to give them a smoky taste and aroma before they’re ground into a fine brilliant-red powder. The smoking is what sets this paprika apart; peppers for regular paprika are air-dried in the sun or by machine. We use smoked paprika, called pimentón in Spanish, to lend a deep red color and a sweet, smoky, raisin-like flavor and fragrance to meats, seafood, sauces, dips, and vegetables. In Spanish cuisine, it’s a primary seasoning for chorizo and the spicy, smoky sauce for the bar snack patatas bravas.
Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers brought paprika from the Americas, and both Hungary and Spain eventually adopted it with enthusiasm, each creating several different styles. Today, Spain has two paprika-producing regions, La Vera and Murcia. Both have earned Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) status, meaning they adhere to processing standards distinctive to the region. Smoked paprika, which is available in three styles—sweet, bittersweet, and hot—is a specialty of La Vera. We focused on the sweet style, which is most commonly called for in recipes and is the most common in American markets.
We tasted seven products, priced from $2.20 to $3.31 per ounce, including a DOP-certified Pimentón de La Vera from Spanish manufacturer La Dalia. We sampled them in Smoky Pork and White Bean Stew and then in our sauce for Patatas Bravas, rating them on their flavor, level of smokiness, and overall appeal.
Our tasters strongly preferred smokier paprikas; they gave the lowest score to an American-made brand with “almost no perceptible smoke.” By contrast, our top two paprikas, both made in Spain and dried over oak fires in the traditional way, had an abundance of sweet, intense, woodsy smoke flavor. One, made under the auspices of the DOP council that holds producers to traditional methods, is made from peppers smoked for 15 days; the other uses peppers smoked for two to three days. According to DOP guidelines, it is this slow, careful smoking and dehydrating—without stewing the peppers in their own juices—that is the biggest factor in giving paprika better aroma, flavor, and color stability. We’ll happily buy either of our top two choices, which virtually tied in our rankings: Simply Organic Smoked Paprika ($2.83 per ounce) can be found at most supermarkets, while La Dalia Pimentón de la Vera Sweet Smoked Paprika ($2.39 per ounce, plus shipping) is easy to find online. Both offered intense, smoky flavor; fruity sweetness; and a brilliant color to enhance our recipes.