Paprika is a spice ground from the pods of a variety of aromatic sweet red peppers (Capsicum annuum). Paprika is an abundant source of carotenoids, including relatively high levels of beta-carotene, capsanthin, lutein + zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin, in addition to capsorubin and violaxanthin. Compared to hot peppers, paprika contains only a small amount of capsaicin.
Biologically active components of paprika also include the B vitamins niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), as well as manganese and vitamin E. Paprika has been shown to have powerful antioxidant properties.
Few studies have specifically addressed the impact of paprika in the diet. A combination of capsorubin and beta-carotene, both found in paprika, has been found to significantly inhibit the growth of human prostate cancer cells. Another study found that zeaxanthin plus capsanthin induced cell death in breast cancer and lymphoma cells, as well as moderating multidrug resistance proteins (that can be an important cause of eventual chemotherapy failure). Capsanthin and related paprika carotenoids have also been shown to inhibit carcinogen-induced skin cancer in mice.

Breast cancer-related effects of eating paprika


Women with substantial intake of carotenoids such as the beta-carotene in paprika have been reported to have lower risks of breast cancer and its recurrence. For example, consuming foods high in carotenoids has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer among women with high breast density, although not all studies are in agreement.
A Scandinavian study found that dietary (but not supplemental) beta-carotene had a protective effect against lobular breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Another European study reported that high intake of beta-carotene was protective against breast cancer in postmenopausal women using hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The same study also found that dietary beta-carotene was associated with lowered risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women with relatively high alcohol consumption.
One study reported that beta-carotene enhanced the cytotoxicity of Adriamycin (doxorubicin) in both hormone receptor positive (ER+/PR+) and triple negative (ER-/PR-/HER2-) breast cancer cells. Beta-carotene has also been demonstrated to reduce multidrug resistance in cancer cells.
Higher levels of carotenoids and vitamin A (retinol) in the blood of breast cancer survivors have both been found to be associated with greater likelihood of breast cancer-free survival.


Paprika carotenoid capsanthin (not to be confused with capsaicin) has been demonstrated to reduce the viability of ER+/PR+ breast cancer cells, in part by increasing p53 levels. P53 is a tumor suppressor protein whose activation results either in cell death or DNA repair. Normally, p53 prevents the progression of cells with incorrect numbers of chromosomes toward cancer. However, the p53 gene is often mutated in breast cancer.
Capsanthin has also been shown to inhibit proliferation of triple negative breast cancer cells and to reduce the number and growth of mammary tumors in a mouse model of triple negative breast cancer.

Selecting paprika

Paprika should be purchased organic from a known and reputable producer or seller. This is in part because organic paprika has been shown to incorporate more beta-carotene and zeaxanthin than conventionally-produced paprika. However, the main reason to purchase organic paprika is that it is less likely to be adulterated.
Some paprika is produced in the U.S., but most is imported from a number of countries, including India, China, Spain, Mexico and Hungary, and is not required to be labeled with country or countries of origin. The price of paprika depends in part on the richness of its color. There have been serious problems over the years with some paprika. Substances such as white pepper, curcumin, barium sulphate, lead and brick powder have been used by unscrupulous dealers to increase the weight of paprika or change its color.
Hungarian cuisine uses paprika extensively (e.g., in goulash) and Hungarian varieties, which have a complex flavor, are generally considered to be of high quality. However, in the mid-1990s, some Hungarian growers were found to have been adding lead oxide (a poisonous paint pigment) to improve the color of lower-grade paprika and increase its weight. This resulted in widespread lead poisoning and the deaths of some Hungarian consumers. Paprika was again pulled from the shelves in Hungary in 2004 when it was found to contain unacceptable levels on aflatoxin, a potent carcinogen produced by mold and known to cause liver cancer. Apparently, the local paprika had been mixed with less expensive (and contaminated) paprika imported from Spain and Brazil.
This is not to single out Hungarian paprika, but to demonstrate that even a country that prides itself on the quality of its paprika can, in effect, be victimized by dishonest sellers who offer a degraded product in order to increase their profits. In fact, reports of adulterated and/or contaminated paprika from a variety of geographic sources still appear from time to time.
In addition, because of the possibility of aflatoxin contamination, paprika should be purchased from a seller with high turnover and checked for any signs of moisture, mold, odd discoloration or odor. Paprika should also be stored in a cool, dry, dark place for no more than six months before use.

Types of paprika

Most paprika sold in the U.S. is red and either sweet and mild (i.e., regular paprika) or smoked. However, hot varieties of paprika, as well as orange and yellow paprika, are also available (these characteristics depend on the type of pepper used).

Smoked paprika

Smoked paprika is produced by drying peppers over smoking wood over a period of time. The heat and smoke dry the peppers and impart a smoky flavor to them. Once almost all of the moisture has been removed, the peppers are milled into a fine powder and packaged. Some producers char the peppers in addition to smoking them.
Smoked paprika has been reported to incorporate significantly more total carotenoids than sweet or regular paprika—the smoking process appears to increases the availability of carotenoids.
However, this process also generates undesirable polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the peppers, which are retained in the paprika. PAHs are mutagenic chemicals that have been reported to increase the risk of breast cancer. The level of PAHs in smoked paprika can vary greatly, depending on how the paprika is produced. One study reported a range of 801 to 48,042 μg/kg in smoked paprika samples from a variety of countries. This compares to an average of 1,602 μg/kg in Pimentón de La Vera that was reported in one study. Since it is normally not possible for consumers to determine the PAH level in smoked paprika, the safest choice appears to be organic Pimentón de La Vera (also known as Spanish paprika), which is described below.

Spanish paprika

Pimentón de La Vera or simply Pimentón, is paprika from Spain that is made using a traditional drying process in which the peppers normally are smoked over smoldering oak wood in large drying houses (some Spanish paprika is sun-dried). The peppers are turned by hand every day to ensure even drying. Spanish paprika can be dulce (sweet or mild), agridulce (bittersweet or pungent), or picante (hot or spicy). The HCA levels in Pimentón de La Vera are relatively low and do not appear to be harmful at normal levels of consumption.
One Spanish study that examined the question as to whether typical smoked Pimentón de La Vera intake resulted in harmful PAH exposure concluded that the associated PAH was a negligible portion of total PAH intake (and far below the PAH contributed to the diet by other foods). The average annual consumption of smoked paprika per person in Spain was approximately five ounces (139 g) at the time of this study.
Note that not all "Spanish paprika" is imported from Spain or produced according to traditional Pimentón de La Vera methods. Smoked paprika that is produced in part by charring the peppers or drying at high heat in an accelerated process is likely to have significantly higher PAH content.

Additional comments

Paprika oleoresin

In addition to being used in food as a spice, paprika is used in a food coloring referred to as "paprika oleoresin." Paprika oleoresin is highly processed, has lower levels of carotenoids than paprika, and does not share it's chemopreventive properties. However, it appears to be safe for human consumption at low levels and is an improvement over the red dyes that have been banned.

Carcinogenic effect of hot peppers

While hot pepper consumption has been reported to reduce breast cancer risk, frequent consumption of hot peppers has been found to be associated with esophageal, gall bladder and gastric (stomach and intestinal) cancers in multiple population studies. This is a function of the high capsaicin content of hot peppers, which accounts for their heat. However, only the hot varieties of paprika incorporate meaningful levels of capsaicin (the capsanthin found in sweet paprika is not hot).

Paprika substitutes

Carefully selected paprika is likely to be safe and beneficial for breast cancer patients and survivors. However, the following spices and foods can serve as a substitute for paprika, depending on the recipe:
  • Ancho chile powder
  • Chipotle powder
  • Chili powder
  • Cajun seasoning
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
Use less of these substitutes, as necessary, to make up for differences in heat level. All of these foods and products should be purchased organic.

Sources of information provided in this webpage

The information above, which is updated continually as new research becomes available, has been developed based solely on the results of academic studies. Clicking on any of the underlined terms will take you to its tag or webpage, which contain more extensive information.
Note that while we are continually searching for new evidence concerning this food, there is not much interest in paprika among breast cancer researchers, so few studies that focus on this spice are available.