All paprika is made from the ground skins and flesh of dried red peppers. It’s the variety of red peppers used that separates sweet, hot, and smoked paprika. When a recipe simply calls for “paprika,” it’s referring to sweet paprika. The most commonly used paprika is made from bright, sweet red peppers, making for a spice that doesn’t have much heat at all. Instead, its flavor is fruity and a little bitter. Sprinkle it on deviled eggs or use it to make classic Hungarian dishes like goulash.
Dry and smoke the red peppers over an oak fire and you’ve got smoked paprika, which can be made from both sweet and hot pepper varieties. You’ll also see it listed as Spanish paprika or Pimentón de la Vera, as it is Spanish in origin. If it doesn’t specifically say it’s hot or picante, it’s likely sweet, so its flavor is all about the smoke rather than heat and smoke. Use it to add smoky flavor to dishes without actually smoking them.