If you like spice, you’re probably familiar with the cayenne pepper. The long, thin, bright red Capsicum annuum is a member of the Solanaceae family. It’s related to other capsicums, including sweet bell peppers, jalapeños, poblanos, serranos, and the notoriously spicy ghost peppers. While not nearly as hot as the ghost pepper, the cayenne pepper still packs quite a punch.
The cayenne pepper is said to originate from Cayenne, French Guiana. It’s commonly dried and ground into a fine powder. It’s also used fresh in many recipes. It grows around the world in places such as India, East Africa, Mexico, and certain areas of the United States. In addition to being delicious, it adds a touch of heat to your food and provides some remarkable health benefits.
Cayenne peppers can provide a variety of health benefits. These include:
Cayenne peppers, like other spicy peppers, have capsaicin, the compound that gives them their “heat”. Applied topically, capsaicin can help to alleviate pain by reducing the amount of a neuropeptide known as substance P that travels to the brain to signal pain. With less substance P, feelings of pain decrease.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes itchy, scaly, red patches on the skin. While there is currently no cure, topical capsaicin creams can help to reduce itching and improve the skin’s appearance.
Capsaicin increases the amount of heat that your body produces, boosting your metabolism and causing you to burn more calories. It’s also somewhat effective in reducing hunger, causing you to eat less throughout the day.
Capsaicin stimulates the nerves in your stomach that send signals for protection against injury. The pepper may help to increase the production of digestive fluid, send enzymes to the stomach to aid in digestion, and provide extra protection to the stomach against infections.
Reducing High Blood Pressure
Based on animal studies, capsaicin may help to reduce high blood pressure, which also reduces the risk of developing heart disease.
Reducing Cancer Risk
Cayenne pepper, like other spicy peppers, has a compound known as capsaicin. It has many antioxidants, including:
In addition to these nutrients, cayenne peppers also have:
- Vitamin B1
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin K
Nutrients Per Serving
A single tablespoon (5.3 grams) of cayenne pepper has:
- Calories: 17
- Protein: 0.6 grams
- Fat: 0.9 grams
- Carbohydrates: 3 grams
- Fiber: 1.4 grams
- Sugar: 0.5 grams
Things to Watch Out For
Cayenne peppers are safe to eat, and are a delicious, spicy addition to many dishes. Eating too many, however, can cause some unwanted side effects, such as an upset stomach or heartburn. If you’re sensitive to spice, you may also feel an uncomfortable burning sensation in your mouth.
Cayenne pepper may also interact with certain medications, such as:
How to Use Cayenne Pepper
You’re more likely to find cayenne pepper as a ground spice, located with the rest of the spices in your local grocery store. Some stores carry fresh peppers in the produce section. When buying fresh, look for peppers that are bright, shiny, and firm. Avoid those that are wrinkly, soft, or have dark spots on them.
To store fresh cayennes, place them in a paper bag or wrap them in paper towels and place them in your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer. Avoid plastic bags, as they can collect moisture and cause your peppers to go bad faster. Only wash them when you’re ready to use them.
Fresh and ground cayenne pepper can be used in a variety of ways:
- Add a dash of cayenne pepper to a soup or stew
- Sprinkle it over egg dishes such as scrambled eggs, quiches, or egg salad
- Mix it into hummus
- Add a pinch of ground cayenne pepper to your hot chocolate
- Stir into homemade lemonade for a delicious kick
- Add fresh cayenne (or ground cayenne) to sautéed vegetables
- Mix fresh peppers into your favorite cornbread recipe
- Combine fresh peppers and lemon juice with cooked bitter greens such as collards or kale