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Cayenne pepper nutrition facts

Fiercely hot and pungent cayenne pepper is one of the widely used spicy ingredients in many cuisines. Cayenne fruits are slender, elongated pods obtained from capsicum family plant.

Cayenne variety of chili pepper plant is native to the Central American region where it was used as a spicy ingredient in Mexican cuisines for several thousand years. This spicy pod was introduced to the rest of the world, especially in the Indian subcontinent, by Spanish and Portuguese explorers during 16th and 17th centuries. They are now one of the important commercial crops in India, Pakistan, China, Argentina and USA.

Botanically, cayenne plant belongs to the nightshade family of Solanaceae, in the genus; capsicum. Scientific name: Capsicum annuum var. annuum.

cayenne chili peppers
cayenne-pepper powder
Cayenne chili peppers in capsicum annuum plant. Note for long, slender chili pods. Cayenne pepper powder.

Cayenne pepper is a perennial small shrub, reaching about 90-100 cm in height. It prefers well drained sandy soil and warm climate. Its woody stem with numerous branches is covered with thick dark-green foliage. Small creamy-white flowers appear all over the bush which subsequently develop into long, slender, glossy bright green color fruits (pods). The fruits finally attain mature status when they turn deep-red color.

Interiorly, each cayenne fruit features numerous tiny, flat, disk-shaped, off-white or cream colored seeds. The seeds are actually clinging on to central white placenta.

In general, the cayenne chili peppers are allowed to ripen completely in the plant itself and hand picked upon reaching maturity and turned red. They are then left to dry, which causes them to shrivel.

Cayenne chilies have a strong spicy taste that comes to them from the active alkaloid compounds' capsaicin, capsanthin and capsorubin. The hotness of cayenne is measured in “Scoville heat units” (SHU). On the Scoville scale, cayenne pepper has 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. On comparison scale, bell peppers have "zero" SHU.

Health benefits of cayenne peppers

  • Although inherently hot and intolerable even in small amounts, cayennes are one of the health-benefiting spice items packed with minerals, vitamins and certain phyto-nutrients. It is no wonder this wonderful spice has been found a place in modern as well as in traditional medicines for its disease preventing and health promoting properties.

  • Cayenne contains health benefiting alkaloid compound, capsaicin which gives them strong spicy pungent character. Early laboratory studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. When used judiciously it also found to reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals.

  • Fresh cayenne peppers, red or green, are rich source of vitamin-C. 100 g fresh chilies provide about 76.4 mg or about 127% of RDA of this vitamin. Vitamin-C is a potent water soluble antioxidant. It is required for the collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen is one of the main structural protein inside the body required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body protect from scurvy; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.

  • Cayenne chili peppers are perhaps the richest source of vitamin A among spices. Just 100 g of cayenne has 41,610 IU or astoundingly 1387% of vitamin A. Additionally, this prized spice is also home for anti-oxidant flavonoids such as carotenes, lutein, zea xanthin and cryptoxanthin. Together, these antioxidants in cayenne help to protect the body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress, and disease conditions.

  • The spice contains very high levels of essential minerals. Even if consumed in small quantities regularly would provide sufficient levels of iron, copper, zinc, potassium, manganese, magnesium and selenium. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Selenium is an anti-oxidant trace element required by the human body for smooth heart and liver functions.

  • 100 g of cayenne peppers provides 2014 mg or 47% of a daily-required amount of potassium. Potassium is an important electrolyte in the cells and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. It thus, counters the bad effects of sodium.

  • Cayenne peppers are also good in B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1). These vitamins are essential in the sense that body requires them from external sources to replenish. B-complex vitamins facilitate cellular metabolism through various enzymatic functions.

Cayenne peppers have amazingly very high levels of vitamins and minerals. Just 100 g provides (in % of Recommended daily allowance):

127% of vitamin-C (Ascorbic acid),
39% of vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine),
54% of niacin,
71% of riboflavin,
1387% of vitamin A,
97.5% of iron,
41% of copper,
43% of potassium,
but no cholesterol.

Selection and storage

Cayenne peppers can be available year around in the markets either fresh-green or red, dried or powdered form. In the stores, buy fresh whole pepper pods instead of powder since oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy mixtures.

Look for raw, fresh chilies featuring brilliant red color with healthy stem, wholesome and compact. Avoid the pods with spots or those spoiled tips and inflicted by molds.

Once at home, they should be stored inside the refrigerator in a plastic bag where they will stay fresh for about a week.

Dry, whole red cayenne peppers are also available in the markets. Dry-peppers can be stored at room temperature in a cool, dark place and in airtight containers for several months. They can be milled to powder using a hand mill as and when required. If you want to buy dry powder instead, go for the authentic and branded products. Powdered cayenne pepper should be stored in cool place inside airtight containers.

Medicinal uses

  • Cayenne peppers contain chemical compound capsaicin. Capsaicin and its co-compounds employed in the preparation of ointments, rubs and tinctures for their astringent, counter-irritant and analgesic properties.

  • These formulations have been in use in the treatment of arthritic pain, post herpetic neuropathic pain, sore muscles, etc.

  • Scientific studies on experimental mammals suggest that capsaicin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic, and anti-diabetic properties.

  • The spice is also one of the ingredients in a popular cayenne pepper diet along with lemon juice, laxative tea, etc. Several poorly-established research studies suggest that cayenne pepper has been found to reduce blood sugar levels, LDL cholesterol levels and weight in obese persons.

Culinary uses

Raw, fresh cayenne chilies are being used to make sauce, chutney, spicy water and pickling in South Asia. However, powdered form is favored in Mexican, Mediterranean, and American cooking.

Before cooking, wash raw red cayenne in clean water in order to remove any residual fungicides, sand and dust. Cayenne chilies, either as fresh or ground, can cause serious burning sensation to hands and may cause severe irritation to mouth/nasal passages, eyes and throat. Therefore, it may be advised in some sensitive individuals to use thin hand gloves and face masks while handling.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Fresh raw cayenne peppers are being used as vegetables in cuisines in many parts of the South Asia, especially in southern states of India, where they liberally mixed with other vegetables like potato, okra, pumpkin, green beans, etc., along with tomato, garlic, onion, cumin seeds and other spices in various mouth-watering stir-fries.

  • Cayenne, chopped and ground, is used as a condiment in the preparation of pepper sauce, soups, and curries and to marinate meat, fish and poultry.

  • Dried cayenne chili powder is an important ingredient in cajun spice mix or simply known as curry powder in many Asian countries.

  • Thin slices of cayenne chillies are favored mix in Chinese-style vegetable stir-fries and noodles.

  • Cayenne chilies, soaked in yogurt and salted, then dried under sunlight, are used as side snacks during dinner in South Indian states.

Safety profile

The pungency (hotness) level of cayenne peppers is in the range of 30,000-50,000 SHU. The pungent character is due to active component in them, capsaicin, which when eaten causes severe irritation and hot sensation to mouth, tongue and throat.

  • Capsaicin in cayenne chilies initially elicit inflammation when it comes in contact with the delicate mucus membranes of oral cavity, throat and stomach, and soon produces severe burning sensation that is perceived as ‘hot’ through free nerve endings in the mucosa. Eating cold yogurt helps reduce the burning pain by diluting capsaicin concentration and also preventing its contact with stomach walls.

  • Avoid touching eyes with cayenne pepper contaminated fingers. If so, rinse eyes thoroughly in cold water to reduce irritation.

  • They may aggravate existing gastro-esophageal reflux (GER) condition.

  • Certain chemical compounds like aflatoxin (fungal mold), found in old, spoiled cayenne chilies have been known to cause stomach, liver and colon cancers. (Mediacl disclaimer).

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Further Resources:

1. USDA National Nutrient Database. (opens in new window)

2. Gernot-Katzer's spice pages. (Opens in new window)

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