Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika: What’s the Difference?

Written by August Buck
Published: September 16, 2022
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Whether you are an avid chef or simply looking to spice up your daily meals, what are all of the differences between cayenne pepper vs paprika? These two spices are integral to a number of kitchen pantries and dishes found around the world, but how are these spices similar and related in the first place? 

In this article, we will compare the cayenne pepper plant with paprika so that you can fully understand the differences between these two culinary staples. We will go over what they are typically used for and how you can grow the plants that create these two spices, in case you are interested in harvesting the real thing. Let’s get started now! 

Comparing Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika

Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika
Cayenne pepper is a specific type of hot pepper, while paprika is a spice blend of a variety of types of peppers.

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Cayenne PepperPaprika
Plant ClassificationCapsicum annuumVaries, but primarily made up of types of Capsicum annuum peppers
DescriptionTypically reaches up to 4 feet tall with plain, green leaves. Produces small white flowers and bright red peppers. These peppers average 5 inches long and sometimes have a wrinkled or bumpy texture, with a curved end and a skinny shape overallVaries, given that paprika is made up of many different pepper plant varieties. However, the powder is typically red or orange in color, and the peppers used in paprika production have thin skin. Variants in color depends on what peppers are used to begin with
UsesUsed in many culinary capacities, including use as a powdered spice and whole pepper. Can be a blend of different chilis, and red pepper flakes are often made using cayenne pepperUsed in many culinary capacities, only ever in powdered form. Very popular in Spanish and Hungarian cuisines in particular, and reaches its best flavor profile when heated
Origin and Growing PreferencesNative to North America; prefers hot, full sun and moist soil. Be sure to not overwaterNative to North America; varies depending on the pepper plants used to make paprika, but likely enjoys full sunshine
Flavor and TasteSpicy and hot flavor, with some citrus notesSweeter, smokier flavor with some floral or fruity notes; not very spicy

Key Differences Between Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika

Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika
The spice that we know and love, paprika, is made up of a variety of peppers from the same species as cayenne, but the milder versions rather than the spicier ones.

©iStock.com/ClaireLucia

There are a few key differences between cayenne pepper and paprika. For example, cayenne pepper is a specific type of hot pepper, while paprika is a spice blend of a variety of types of peppers. In addition, paprika has more variation in color compared to the average cayenne pepper spice. Speaking of spice, cayenne pepper is much spicier compared to the average paprika blend. 

Let’s go over all of these differences in more detail.

Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika: Classification

It is difficult to discuss the plant classification of cayenne pepper and paprika, considering that paprika is not a plant at all. However, cayenne peppers are a specific pepper variety from the Capsicum annuum species, and paprika can also be classified similarly. The spice that we know and love, paprika, is made up of a variety of peppers from the same species as cayenne, but the milder versions rather than the spicier ones. 

Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika: Description

Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika
Most peppers used to make paprika have thinner skin and come in a variety of colors compared to the average bright red cayenne pepper.

©iStock.com/Vasin Hirunwiwatwong

Given that paprika is made up of the same peppers as cayenne peppers, these plants look strikingly similar to each other when growing in a garden setting. However, most peppers used to make paprika have thinner skin and come in a variety of colors compared to the average bright red cayenne pepper. This leads to a variation in the colors of ground cayenne peppers and paprika, with paprika often being a lighter color compared to cayenne pepper. 

If you are interested in growing a cayenne pepper plant in your own garden, it reaches an average of two to four feet in height. The leaves are simple, and the flowers are a lovely white shade. Cayenne peppers are narrow and typically bright red, reaching up to 6 inches long and occasionally covered in a bumpy or wrinkled texture. The same can of course be said for the peppers used in paprika production, but some of these peppers may also be shaped like bell peppers rather than cayenne peppers. 

Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika: Uses

Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika
The average cayenne pepper is used either raw or as a ground spice, while paprika is always a ground spice.

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Cayenne pepper and paprika are used in a culinary capacity almost exclusively, but both of these spices have different culinary uses. For example, cayenne pepper is used either raw or as a ground spice, while paprika is always a ground spice. You can use paprika in a variety of dishes that call for it specifically, while cayenne pepper is a great spice to use if you want to make your dish hotter!

Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika: Origin and How to Grow

Given that cayenne pepper and paprika are essentially the same plant, found in the same species, they have similar origins and ways of growing. For example, both paprika and cayenne pepper plants originated in North America. Nearly all pepper varieties prefer to grow in full sunlight and warm summer weather, with moist soil that dries out in between waterings

Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika: Flavor and Taste

Cayenne Pepper vs Paprika
Cayenne pepper is much hotter compared to paprika.

©iStock.com/Sebalos

The final and arguably key difference between cayenne pepper and paprika lies in their flavor and taste profiles. For example, cayenne pepper is much hotter compared to paprika, with a Scoville rating of up to 50,000. Paprika typically does not lie anywhere on the Scoville scale, though there are smoky and hot varieties of paprika. For the most part, paprika has a sweeter flavor with vaguely fruity notes compared to the spicy and hot flavor of cayenne pepper powder.


The Featured Image

cayenne pepper spice
Cayenne pepper is also called red pepper flakes.
© iStock.com/Amarita

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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Sources
  1. Color quality in paprika, Available here: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/jf00024a012
  2. Effects of Water Availability on Physiological Factors of Cayenne Pepper Plant Capsicum frutescens L., Available here: https://www.atlantis-press.com/proceedings/icbs-21/125974034