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Confused about cayenne pepper, chili powder and paprika

They seem pretty similar; I guess thay are made from different types of chilies but are their differences so significant? Are they interchangeable in recipes? Will it be a big difference if I substitute one for the other?

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  1. Cayenne is made from a specific, hot pepper.

    Paprikas are usually made from milder peppers -- sweet paprika is even available, which to me does not taste even a little spicey.

    Chili powder, however, is rather different -- it's a mix that includes dried ground chile peppers (often both cayenne and paprika), cumin, garlic, and oregano.

    1. They are not all the same.

      Generally speaking from mildest to hottest in taste: Paprika, Chili Powder, Cayenne.

      Cayenne are peppers. They are really hot and cayenne powder is ground dried cayenne pepper.

      Chili Powder is a mix of chili pepper powder and other spices like cumin and garlic powder and sometimes other spices like cinnamon or nutmeg (no lie). But chili powder can be really hot depending on the ratio and kind of chiles to other ingredients in the mix. Also, paprika and cayenne can be components of chili powder. If you wanted to sub chili powder for cayenne (say) you would have to consider what it was going into and whether it would go well together or clash.

      Paprika - there are a lot of different types and grades. I think it is made of a pepper that has had the oomph taken out of it. BUT it is a distinct flavor and not just a spice for heat. You do not see many Chicken Cayenne dishes out there. rather than getting all particular, just know that at the grocery there are different kinds. Some are sweet, some are hot. Some are Spanish, Hungarian, turkish (etc. and the within those groups there are grades or different qualities.

      Someone else will probably be able to elaborate on that. I am not, obviously, an expert.

      1. Generic paprika is mild. Hungarian paprika (the best is from the town of Szeged) is available in sweet and hot powdered versions, although the sweet variety is what we usually associate with paprika, used in dishes such as chicken paprikash and Hungarian goulash. There are also Spanish paprikas on the market, which are smoked.

        Generic chili powder is a rather harsh mix of various chili peppers, cumin, oregano, salt and dehydrated garlic. A better alternative to "chili powder" is to purchase chili powders made from one specific type of chili. McCormick's is now marketing, along with their "chili powder", other PURE chili powders. "Ancho Chili Powder" is sweet, slightly smokey, and a bit hot, and is absolutely fabulous for chili con carne. Ancho chilis are dried, smoked poblano chilis. You can also buy chipotle chili powder, as well as others. By buying the pure chili powders, you have more control over the ingredients and flavours (and the amount of salt) that are going into your cooked foods.

        1 Reply
        1. re: FlavoursGal

          ...those smoked Spanish Paprikas are wonderful--try them if you can find them. The brand I buy comes in 'sweet' (not hot) and 'hot' which packs a moderate amount of heat. I use the smoked sweet in place of Hungarian Szeged-type in chicken dishes which call for paprika and the flavor is very good.

        2. Sorry on your last question about whether it will make a difference -- if you tell us what you're making that will probably elicit more useful advice.

          1. Someone should add here that some cookbooks will confuse you by using neutral terms that are not clear.

            For example, Julie Sahni, who writes excellent Indian cookbooks, is fond of the term 'red pepper' when she means cheyenne pepper or another hot, dried, ground, chili-pepper. 'Red Pepper' is vague enough to suggest that maybe paprika is wanted. Anyways, reading a cookbook's glossary on such occasions is usually all that is needed.