What is Cayenne Pepper?

Cayenne pepper takes its name from its supposed centre of origin – the Cayenne region of French Guiana, Cayenne deriving from a Tupi Indian name. It is now grown largely in India, East Africa, Mexico and the United States, in fact most tropical and sub-tropical regions. Chiles originated in South America, where they have been under cultivation since prehistoric times. The seed’s long viability facilitated the rapid spread of the plant throughout the tropics and sub-tropics by the Spanish and Portuguese, the spice becoming as popular there as vine pepper. Chiles were long known as ‘Indian’ pepper – meaning ‘of the New World’ rather than ‘of India’. Despite its specific name, and the supposed use of special chiles for it, there is little to distinguish cayenne from ordinary pure chilli powder, except that commercial ‘chilli powder’ usually contains other spices such as garlic or cumin, and is rougher in texture.

Cayenne pepper is a finely ground powder prepared from the seeds and pods of various types of chile. The cayenne variety is commonly called ‘Bird Chile’, and the botanical name variously given as C. minimum or C. baccatum. As most powders are blends, the names of the varieties used are not very important. The capsicums used are the small-fruited varieties: thinnish tapered seed pods up to 12cm (5in) long and 2.5cm (1″) in diameter. Cayenne is made from the ripened fruit, varying from red to yellow. The powder is red or red-brown in colour. Some cayennes include the ground seeds and are hotter than those which exclude them. Cayenne pepper is well known and easily available in the West. It should not be confused with the vine peppers which yield common black pepper.
Bouquet: Dusty but slightly aromatic.
Flavour: Hot, pungent and biting, although not as powerful as the hotter chillies.
Hotness Scale: 8-9

Preparation and Storage

Cayenne should not be used to the same degree as paprika, which it resembles, for it is much stronger. When used as a condiment it should be sprinkled sparingly. It should be kept in a dark container as it is affected by sunlight, and bought in small quantities as it deteriorates rapidly, losing its pungency.

Cooking with Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper can be used as a spice in cooking; or as a condiment at table, generally with seafoods, such as oysters, sardines, smoked salmon and trout, scallops, fried mussels, crab, lobster and crayfish. It may be sprinkled over soups and hors d’oeuvres. It can be eaten with eggs cooked in any way, and egg dishes such as omelettes and souffles. It is good with roasted, grilled, fried or stewed meats. It can be sprinkled on bacon prior to frying and used in the dusting flour for fried chicken, fish and vegetables. It adds piquancy to stews, casseroles and sauces, especially cheese, barbecue and shellfish sauces. It can be used in the making of cheese straws and biscuits, marinades, pickles, ketchups, chutneys and smoked foods. It is an ingredient of Worcestershire sauce and is frequently used in curries.

Health Benefits of Cayenne

Cayenne pepper exerts a number of beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. It reduces the likelihood of developing arteriosclerosis by reducing blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Cayenne also reduces the platelet aggregation and increases fibrinolytic activity. Cultures consuming a large amount of Cayenne pepper have a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease. Cayenne has been used as medicine for centuries. It was considered helpful for various conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, including stomachaches, cramping pains, and gas. Cayenne was frequently used to treat diseases of the circulatory system. It is still traditionally used in herbal medicine as a circulatory tonic (a substance believed to improve circulation). Rubbed onto the skin, Cayenne is a traditional, as well as modern, remedy for rheumatic pains and arthritis due to what is termed as a “counterirritant” effect. A counterirritant is something that causes irritation to a tissue to which it is applied, thus distracting from the original irritation (such as joint pain in the case of arthritis).
Many people consume lots of hot peppers in tropical climates as the heat will induce perspiration, which actually helps a person to cool off. Cayenne’s primary chemical constituents include capsaicin, capsanthine, beta carotene, flavonoids, and vitamin C. Cayenne causes the brain to secrete more endorphins. It is considered thermogenic, meaning it can “rev up” metabolism and aid in weight loss. Cayenne also improves circulation. Cayenne helps to relieve pain, not only due to its endorphin enhancing properties, but also when diluted and used topically it helps to block the transmission of substance P, which transports pain messages to the brain.

Plant Description and Cultivation

The capsicums are a vast collection of highly crossbred varieties of perennial and annual shrubs of the potato and tomato family. Cayenne pepper comes from the fruits of small berried species of C. frutescens, the perennial types. Characteristic features of these species are densely branching stems, sometimes purple-tinged, alternate leaves, dark green above, lighter on the underside, and white flowers borne singly, or in pairs or threes, in axils. The plant averages 60cm (2ft) in height, some African varieties being smaller. The podlike berries appear in countless different sizes, shapes and colours, but those used for cayenne are generally small, slender, and red to yellow when ripe. Chiles are propagated from seed in nurseries. The plants are transplanted outside some six to eight weeks later. They thrive in hot temperatures. Peppers for cayenne are allowed to ripen, green chilli being picked three months after planting, though C. frutescens can live up to three years., It is grown as an annual because its yield is poor after the first year.

Other Names

Bird’s Beak, Chilliepin, Guinea Pepper, Mad Pepper
French: piment enrage, poivre de Cayenne, poivre rouge
German: Cayennepfeffer
Italian: pepe di Caienna
Spanish: guindilla, pimentén picante, pimienta de cayena
Japanese: togarashi

Scientific Name

Capsicum frutescens
Fam: Solanaceae

Image by tookapic from Pixabay