Cumin and paprika are two very common spices in the kitchen. They are used in similar ways but have very different tastes.

The Key Differences Between Cumin and Paprika

Cumin and paprika are two very common spices in the kitchen. They are used in similar ways but have very different tastes.

Cumin is one of the most popular spices and is commonly used in a variety of cuisines such as Latin American, Middle Eastern, North African, and Indian cuisines, among many others. It was brought to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese colonists. 

Paprika is a common spice blend found in almost any spice rack. It combines dried ground bits of dried peppers that include both sweet bell peppers and hot peppers. It often has a smoky flavor so it can be confused with cayenne pepper. Paprika is used in a small amount to garnish foods, add color, or season dishes. 

Originally Published On: May 5, 2023

Scientific Names

Cumin: Cuminum cyminum

Paprika: Capsicum annuum 

Plant

Cumin comes from the dried seeds of the Cuminum cyminum plant. It is a member of the parsley family and is often confused with caraway (another plant in the parsley family).  Cumin plants grow to about 12-20 inches in height and grow annually. The cumin plant is likely to have originated in Central or Southeastern Asia or the Eastern Mediterranean, therefore a majority of the world’s cumin plants are cultivated in India. Cumin seeds are small boat-shaped seeds that are brown-yellow in color. They can also be found in varieties of black cumin, green cumin, and white cumin. The flowers of a cumin plant are white or rose-colored and generally flat on the top. 

Paprika is made from dried and ground red peppers. The plants are similar to chili peppers but are a bit more mild in heat level. The plants are native to Argentina, Mexico, Hungary, Serbia, Spain, the Netherlands, China, and some regions of the United States. The red peppers used in paprika grow on plants above ground with bright green leaves. The pepper plants produce a white flower before the fruit forms. 

Flavor

Cumin has a strong earthy, musky, warm flavor with a bit of tang to it. Because of the taste, it reminds me of taco seasoning and is one of the key ingredients in it. The amount of cumin you use will highly change the flavor of a dish. This is a spice that is best in small amounts as large quantities will start to overpower most dishes. 

Paprika comes in a few varieties so the type you get will determine the flavor. 

Regular Paprika

Regular paprika is what you will find in the spice section of almost any grocery store. This is the version used for most meat rubs, to garnish foods such as deviled eggs, and has a sweet flavor. 

Hungarian Sweet Paprika

There are many varieties of Hungarian paprika based on their flavors and spiciness. 

  • Special or különleges is very bright red and has no heat at all. 
  • Félédes is half sweet and half spicy.
  • Csípősmentes csemege is delicate and mild.
  • Csemege paprika is similar to csípősmentes csemege but more pungent.
  • Csípős csemege is delicate yet hotter than csemege.
  • Rózsa or rose paprika has a mild taste and can also sometimes have more of an orange-red hue.
  • Edesnemes has a slight heat and is the most commonly exported Hungarian paprika.
  • Erős is the most pungent or hottest of the Hungarian paprikas. This paprika has more of a brownish tone compared to the natural redness of the other grades.

Spanish Paprika

Spanish paprika has a similar flavor to regular paprika. They both have the same earthy flavor profile, but the Spanish paprika is more of a hot paprika. You’ll also find most Spanish paprika has a smoky taste as the peppers are typically dried over a fire which gives you smoked paprika. 

There is a wide range of heat levels when it comes to peppers. The Scoville scale was developed to test the spiciness of peppers. The scale is based on human taste buds which is why there is a range for each pepper. Since everyone perceives it slightly differently, there are some discrepancies. If you know what type of pepper is used in the paprika you purchase, then you can determine the heat level of paprika spice you have. 

Pepper TypeScoville Heat Units (SHU)
Pure Capsaicin15 to 16 million
Carolina Reaperup to 2,200,000
Trinidad Moruga Scorpionup to 2,009,231
Ghost Pepperup to 1,041,427
Chocolate Habanero Pepper425,000 to 577,000
Red Savina350,000 to 577,000
Orange Habanero Pepper150,000 to 325,000
Fatalii125,000 to 325,000
Scotch Bonnet100,000 to 350,000
Thai Pepper50,000 to 100,000
Cayenne Pepper30,000 to 50,000
Tabasco Pepper30,000 to 50,000
Serrano Pepper10,000 to 25,000
Hungarian Wax Pepper5,000 to 10,000
Jalapeno Pepper2,500 to 8,000
Piment d’Espelette500 to 4,000
Poblano Pepper1,000 to 1,500
Pepperoncini100 to 500
Banana Pepper0 to 500
Bell Pepper0 to 100
Src: https://growhotpeppers.com/what-is-the-scoville-scale-for-peppers/

Pairings

When cooking with cumin, you will find some recipes call for whole cumin seeds while others will call for ground cumin. Typically, if it is added early in a dish, you will use cumin seeds as they have time to release their flavors into the meal. When using cumin as a ground spice, it is added later or as part of a marinade or other spice blend. Cumin is common in curry powder, taco seasoning, chipotle powder, and adobo powder. Because of the flavor of cumin and its prevalence in Mexican dishes, I like to combine it with black pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. 

Paprika has different uses depending on which type you are using. Something mild, such as regular paprika, is often used to add to a finished dish, such as a pop of color on deviled eggs or hummus. A pinch of paprika is often all you need for those. On the other hand, if you are using a stronger type of paprika, it will be used during cooking to flavor your meal. Spanish smoked paprika will oftentimes become the main flavor in a dish. 

Substituting

Cumin seeds and cumin powder can be a good substitute for each other if needed. Because the seeds need more time to produce flavor, and spices in ground forms are more pungent, you’ll need to replace it at a 4 to 1 ratio. For every 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, you will use 1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin spice. With most of these substitutes, you will want to start by adding half the amount of the seasoning. For example, if you replace 1 tbsp of cumin with coriander you would start with 1/2 tbsp and work your way up as needed. 

In order, these are the best substitutes for cumin:

  • ​Ground Coriander (half the amount of cumin)
  • Caraway Seeds (half the amount of cumin seeds)
  • Chili Powder (half the amount of cumin)
  • Taco Seasoning (1:1 ratio)
  • Curry Powder (1:1 ratio)
  • Garam Masala (half the amount of cumin)
  • Paprika (half the amount of cumin)
  • Fennel Seeds (half the amount of cumin seeds)

Substituting for paprika gets more tricky. You have to substitute based on the type of paprika you are using. Smoked paprika can be replaced with chipotle powder, cayenne powder, ancho powder, or chili powder. A great substitute for sweet paprika would be sweet chili powder or tomato powder. 

Recipes

Cumin Recipes:

Paprika Recipes:

Nutritional Information

Cumin Nutritional Information: 1 tablespoon of cumin contains: 22 calories, 1.3g of fat, 10.1mg of sodium, 2.7g of carbohydrates, 0.6g of fiber, 0.1g of sugar, and 1.1g of protein.

Src: https://www.verywellfit.com/cumin-benefits-side-effects-and-preparations-4178787

Paprika Nutritional Information: 1 teaspoon of paprika contains 6 calories, 0.3g of protein, 0.3g of fat, 1.2g of carbohydrates, 0.8g of fiber, and 0.2g of sugar.

Src: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/encyclopedia/food/paprika

Medicinal Information

Herbs have been used in medicine for thousands of years so you can find a plethora of information about how each has been used for a variety of ailments and medicinal uses all over the world.

Cumin is not usually used in large quantities so doesn’t add a lot of medicinal advantages to most dishes. Most of the research has been done using cumin essential oils instead of cumin in seed or ground form. Though research has shown it can be used to maintain weight, help with cholesterol and diabetes, relieve symptoms of IBS, lower stress levels, and aid in memory loss.

Paprika, because it’s made from peppers, contains capsaicin which has been found to have a wide variety of health benefits. Capsaicin has antioxidant properties which can reduce the risk of major diseases such as heart disease and cancer. It can also improve your immune system overall and help with general pain relief.

Grow Your Own

Growing your own herbs and spices can be some work, but can be worth it in the end. When you grow your own food, you have full control over what is used on the plants and how much you have.

Location

Cumin is a heat-loving plant that grows well in warm areas. Depending on where you live, you may need to start the seeds indoors and move outside when it’s warm enough and there’s no more threat of frost. But, beware that cumin can be very fragile and doesn’t do well when moved. You are best to start it in compostable containers that can go straight into the ground when it’s time.

Start your paprika pepper plants inside about two months before the last frost date. It takes some time for the plants to grow, so you want to make sure they are ready to transplant when the time is right. They also tend to do better if you slowly acclimate them to the outside by moving them out there for increasing amounts of time over a course of 10 days. Then you can move them into the ground.

Sunlight

Cumin plants prefer to have sunlight most of the day. Plant them in an area of the garden that gets full sunlight.

Almost all varieties of pepper need full sun to grow properly. The best bet is to have them in full sun as long as possible throughout the day.

Soil

Plant cumin seeds in well draining sand or nutrient-rich soil.

Soil temperature has a major impact on the health of your pepper plants. All peppers like it hot, including their soil. The ideal temperature is about 70F-75F. If it’s starting to get warmer, you can add a bed of mulch over the soil to help hold in water and keep the ground cooler.

Water

Since cumin grows in warm areas, it’s a fairly drought-tolerant plant. It likes water before the soil completely dries out and needs more water during the hottest months of the summer. If the soil doesn’t need water, but the plant is looking dry, you can mist the leaves to provide a bit of water without threatening root rot in the plant.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to water your pepper plants! Peppers want the ground to be moist at all times and do best with a consistent, regular watering schedule. If the leaves start to wilt and/or turn yellow, the plants are being overwatered.

Harvesting

The plants take about 100-150 days to be ready to harvest. Watch for the flowers to start to dry and turn brown. When they do, you’ll want to cut the flowers at the stems. If you wait too long, they will get dried out and become bitter or fall off the flower and scatter.

When removing a pepper from the plant, its best to use shears or a harvesting tool to prevent damage to the plant. Peppers will take anywhere from 60-100 days to ripen, depending on the variety and how soon you want to harvest. The longer you leave a pepper to grow, the hotter it will be when you eat it. For bell peppers, they will first be green, then continue to change color to yellow then orange then finally red.

Drying

Once you collect the flower stems, place them in a brown paper bag and hang them upside down. After about one week the seeds should have fallen off the flowers and collect in the bottom of the bag. If they haven’t, you can gently rub them in your fingers to remove the seeds or hit the bag against a surface to knock them loose.

Drying out the peppers is the hardest part of making your own paprika. They need to be stored in mesh or paper bags in a heated room with temperatures of about 130-150F. The best place would likely be an attic or garage. This will take anywhere from 3-7 days to dry them out. Or you can use a dehydrator. Once they are dried, use a grinder to grind into powder.

Sources

13 thoughts on “The Key Differences Between Cumin and Paprika”

  1. I use cumin and paprika often when cooking and couldn’t imagine that anyone would get the two confused. Though it is interesting to learn the differences.

  2. I use cumin and paprika a lot, so I finally figured out the difference. Before I started cooking often, though, I had no idea they were so different.

  3. My husband and I were actually talking about this recently. We’d come across cardamom and had never tasted it before, and it took us onto the topic of the difference between paprika and, his go-to, cumin. He uses it in quite a lot, and even uses it to dust chips!

  4. Great article, I kept thinking that I should look up more about different types of paprika, I have both the Hungarian type and the Spanish type in my kitchen cupboard but use them at random. Great to know more about cumin as well, thanks.

  5. I’ve always found that cumin has a warm, earthy flavour while paprika is more on the sweet and smoky side. They both add a lot of depth to dishes but in different ways. It really comes down to personal preference and what kind of flavour profile you’re going for in your dish.

  6. Jennifer Prince

    I haven’t ever really thought about these spices being similar, but I can totally see the confusion! I also didn’t know there were different varieties of paprika. So interesting!

  7. Very interesting to learn more about the differences between cumin and paprika. I specifically found the medical benefits portion eye opening as I was unaware paprika had capsaicin that can reduce the risk of major diseases such as heart disease and cancer. I’ll add some more to my dishes soon! Thank you for the helpful information,

  8. Wow, this was such an informative post! I always thought cumin and paprika were interchangeable, but now I understand the key differences between the two. I didn’t know that cumin was brought to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese colonists and is used in so many different cuisines. And I had no idea that paprika is a blend of both sweet and hot peppers and can be used for garnishing and adding color to dishes. Thank you for sharing this knowledge, Stephanie! Do you have any favorite recipes that specifically highlight the unique flavors of cumin or paprika?

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