Fiercely hot and pungent, cayenne pepper is one of the widely used spice items in many cuisines. Cayenne fruits are slender, elongated pods obtained from the capsicum family plant.
The Cayenne variety of chili pepper plant is native to the Central American region where it employed as a spicy ingredient in the cuisine for several thousand years. It was introduced to the rest of the world, especially to the Indian subcontinent, by Spanish and Portuguese explorers during 16th and 17th centuries. They are now one of the important commercial crops grown in India, Pakistan, China, Argentina, and the USA.
Botanically, cayenne plant belongs to the nightshade family of Solanaceae, in the genus; capsicum. Scientific name: Capsicum annuum var. annuum.
|Cayenne chili peppers in capsicum annuum plant. Note for long, slender chili pods.||Cayenne pepper powder.|
Cayenne pepper is a small perennial shrub, reaching about 90-100 cm in height. It prefers well drained sandy soil and warm climate. Its woody stem with numerous branches 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 the central white placenta.
In general, the cayenne chili peppers are allowed to ripen completely on 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 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.
Although inherently hot and intolerable even in small amounts, cayennes are one of the health-benefiting spice items packed with minerals, vitamins and certain phytonutrients. It is no wonder how this hot spice has found a place in modern as well as traditional medicines for its disease preventing and health promoting properties.
Cayenne contains health benefiting alkaloid compound, capsaicin which gives them a 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 a 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 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 human 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 the antioxidant 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. The body uses manganese as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Selenium is an antioxidant 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 help controlling heart rate and blood pressure. It thus counters the bad effects of sodium.
Cayenne peppers are also good in the 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),
|Principle||Nutrient Value||Percentage of RDA|
|Total Fat||17.27 g||57.56%|
|Dietary Fiber||27.2 g||71%|
|Vitamin A||41610 IU||1387%|
|Vitamin C||76.4 mg||127%|
|Vitamin E||29.83 mg||199%|
|Vitamin K||80.3 mg||67%|
|Calcium||148 mg||15 %|
Cayenne peppers can be available year around in the markets fresh, either green or red, dried or powdered form. In the stores, buy fresh whole pepper pods instead of powder since oftentimes it may contain some adulterated spice substances.
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, in an airtight containers for several months. They can be milled to powder using a handmill 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 a cool place inside airtight containers.
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 antibacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic, and anti-diabetic properties.
The spice is also one of the ingredients in the modern day weight-reduction "cayenne pepper diet" program along with along with lemon juice, laxative tea, etc. Some poorly established research studies suggest that cayenne pepper has been found to reduce blood sugar levels, LDL cholesterol levels and weight in obese persons.
In many South Asian countries, raw, fresh or dried cayenne chilies are being employed in the preparation of sauce, chutney, chili- water, and pickles. Whereas, its milled (powder) spice preferred in the Mexican, Mediterranean, and American cooking.
Wash raw red cayenne in clean water before cooking to remove any residual fungicides, sand, and dirt. Handle chiles carefully! 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 to use thin hand gloves and face masks while handling them in some sensitive individuals.
Here are some serving tips:
Fresh raw cayenne peppers are being used as vegetables in the cuisines in many parts of the South Asia, especially in southern states of India. Here, they liberally mixed with other vegetables like potato, okra, pumpkin, green beans, etc., along with tomato, garlic, onion, cumin seeds and other spices in many mouth-watering sabzi, stews, and 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 essential ingredient in Cajun spice mix or just known as 'curry powder' in many Asian countries.
Thin slices of cayenne chilies 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.
The pungency (hotness) level of cayenne peppers is in the range of 30,000-50,000 SHU. The pungent character is due to the 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 mucosa of oral cavity, throat, and stomach, and soon produces a severe burning sensation that perceived as ‘hot’ through free nerve endings in the mucosa. Eating cold yogurt can help reduce the burning pain by diluting capsaicin concentration and also preventing its contact with gut walls.
Avoid touching eyes with cayenne pepper contaminated fingers. If so, rinse eyes thoroughly in the cold water to reduce irritation.
They may aggravate existing gastroesophageal 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. (Mediacal Disclaimer).
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1. USDA National Nutrient Database. (opens in new window)
2. Gernot-Katzer's spice pages. (Opens in new window)