What Is Cayenne Pepper?
Cayenne pepper is a type of chili pepper that belongs to the genus Capsicum and is a cultivar of the Capsicum annuum species. Many people use cayenne pepper to add a little spice to a meal. It’s also been used for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems. The fruit of the capsicum plant contains the chemical capsaicin, which studies suggest contributes to the numerous cayenne pepper health benefits.
According to research, cayenne pepper benefits your digestive health, heart health, blood circulation, skin health, metabolism, and weight. It may also help relieve migraine pain, prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, treat psoriasis, fight colds and flu, prevent allergies, support detoxification, treat cancer, and kill and prevent fungal pathogens.
In this article, we will further explain these potential health benefits. You will also learn more about cayenne pepper nutrition facts, the plant’s interesting history, how to use the pepper, and potential risks and precautions associated with this spicy herb. We will also share a couple cayenne pepper recipes. Let’s get started…
Cayenne Pepper History
Cayenne pepper, part of the nightshade family and closely related to jalapenos and bell peppers, is often considered the king of medicinal herbs. It is named after the capital city of French Guiana, Cayenne.
The pepper is native to Mexico and Central and South America, but now grows in tropical and subtropical climates worldwide. In the 15th century, Christopher Columbus and his historian documented the hollow fruit, which grows into long pods that become orange, yellow, or red when ripe. Columbus also brought the cayenne pepper back to Europe.
Other records indicate cayenne peppers were grown in the Hawaiian Islands as early as 1897. These smaller and more pungent fruits were called Hawaiian chili peppers. Cayenne is also one of the main foods of the Hunzas in Central Asia, a group known for their remarkable life expectancy (120 years, on average) and anti-inflammatory diet.
Today, cayenne pepper is one of the most popular chilies in the world, appearing in hot sauces, marinades, soups, stews, curries, salad dressings and more. It’s also a key medicinal ingredient in topical creams for pain relief.
Cayenne Pepper Nutrition Facts
What are the cayenne pepper nutrition facts? One teaspoon of cayenne pepper contains a little protein and fiber. From a vitamin perspective, cayenne peppers contain vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, folate, and choline.
Cayenne pepper also contains small amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, selenium, and phytosterols.
The following is a comprehensive cayenne pepper nutrition chart for one teaspoon, or two grams, of cayenne pepper.
|Total Fat||0.3 g||0.00%|
|Vitamin B2||0.001 mg||1.00%|
|Vitamin B3||0.2 mg||1.00%|
|Vitamin B6||0.001 mg||2.00%|
|Vitamin A||728 IU||15.00%|
|Vitamin C||1.3 mg||2.00%|
|Vitamin E||0.5 mg||3.00%|
|Vitamin K||1.4 mcg||2.00%|
* N/A—Not Applicable
What Are the Benefits of Cayenne Pepper?
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, and it’s what gives the pepper its signature heat. The higher the capsaicin content, the hotter the pepper will be.
Capsaicin is also the source of many of the health benefits of cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine to increase appetite, treat circulatory problems, and more.
The anti-inflammatory properties in cayenne pepper can help prevent allergies and symptoms associated with allergies. Cayenne pepper is also used for toothaches, alcoholism, fever, malaria, digestion, heart health, detoxification, pain relief, weight loss, psoriasis, cancer, allergies, fungal conditions, and the common cold and flu.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of cayenne pepper in further detail.
1. Relieves Pain
Cayenne pepper has powerful pain-relieving properties when applied to the skin. Capsaicin depletes the amount of substance P—a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain—in the nerve endings. When there is less substance P, pain messages can no longer reach the brain, and you will feel relief as a result.
A 2016 review concluded that cayenne pepper has the ability to reduce pain as a long-term analgesia, and does not bring about other sensory changes. Other studies suggest that cayenne pepper relieves pain after surgery, such an amputation or a mastectomy.
Cayenne pepper also alleviates pain from lower back injuries, migraine headaches, nerve conditions like shingles, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, joint and muscle pain, neuropathy, and nerve damage in the legs or feet.
2. Improves Digestion
Another major cayenne pepper benefit is how it improves digestion. Cayenne pepper helps you produce saliva, and this promotes healthy digestion and prevents bad breath. Cayenne pepper stimulates our salivary glands, which is needed for the beginning of the digestion process.
Cayenne also stimulates the flow of gastric production and the gastric juices that allow the body to metabolize food. Moreover, a 2006 review has found that capsaicin in cayenne pepper may help decrease the risk of stomach ulcers. The anti-irritant properties of cayenne pepper are also considered effective for upset stomach and diarrhea.
3. Supports Detoxification
Cayenne pepper stimulates circulation and supports detoxification. It also helps the digestive system remove toxins and bacteria from the body. A popular detoxification and weight loss regime includes a cayenne pepper cleanse that flushes toxins from the body.
The diet contains a cayenne pepper and lemon drink that participants consume six times daily for a 10-day period. The detox drink includes eight ounces of filtered water, two tablespoons of real maple syrup, two tablespoons of lemon juice, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
4. Supports Weight Loss
Cayenne pepper can boost metabolism, reduce hunger, and support a weight loss program. The pepper may reduce hunger pangs by decreasing the body’s production of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
Another study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2005 found that those taking capsaicin ate less food throughout the day than people who hadn’t used capsaicin. People drinking a capsaicin beverage ate 16% less, and those taking capsaicin supplements ate 10% less. The study participants in the capsaicin group also felt fuller and consumed fewer calories.
5. Benefits Heart Health
Cayenne pepper is also used for heart and blood vessel conditions, and is thought to help prevent heart disease and heart attacks, reduce high cholesterol and high blood pressure, reverse excessive blood clotting, and improve poor circulation.
The capsaicin in cayenne pepper can help clear artery-narrowing lipid deposits, and dilates blood vessels and arteries to clear away the blood clots. Animal studies of mice and pigs show that capsaicin can help reduce blood pressure.
6. Treats Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a common skin condition that occurs when skin cells replicate too quickly. With nowhere else to go, new skin cells accumulate under the skin’s surface, and this creates patches of red, swollen skin covered with whitish or silvery scales.
Research has shown that capsaicin cream significantly reduces redness, scaling, and patchiness in psoriasis patients. Capsaicin cream has also been found to relieve itching and improve the appearance of psoriasis-affected areas.
Substance P is known to play a role in psoriasis, and as noted, capsaicin can help decrease the levels of substance P produced by the body.
7. Fights Colds and Flu
Cayenne pepper is also full of nutrients that support the immune system, including beta-carotene and antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E. As a result, cayenne pepper is often used for colds, the flu, coughs, and congestion.
The cayenne pepper helps break up and move congested mucus, which in turn helps reduce cold and flu symptoms. Cayenne pepper also increases your body temperature, and this makes you sweat and increases immune system activity as well.
8. May Treat Cancer
Research suggests that the capsaicin in cayenne pepper can inhibit the growth of cancer cells and prevent the activation of new formations, which may help manage prostate cancer.
Other research suggests that cayenne pepper prevents lung cancer in smokers. Capsaicin may also slow the growth of cancer cells and cause cell death for various cancer types, including pancreatic, liver, and skin cancers.
9. Prevents and Treats Fungal Conditions
Cayenne pepper is also able to kill fungi and prevent the formation of fungal pathogens. Research shows that cayenne pepper exhibits antifungal activity, and is active against 16 different fungal strains, including candida—a fungus that leads to digestive problems, a weakened immune system, headaches, joint pain, mood problems, and hormonal and blood sugar imbalances.
How Do You Use Cayenne Pepper?
Fresh, dried, and powdered cayenne pepper can be purchased at markets and grocery stores. In the refrigerator, cayenne pepper will stay fresh for about a week in a plastic bag. Dried cayenne pepper can be milled into a powder with a hand mill, or you can instead purchase dried cayenne pepper powder.
Cayenne pepper is a staple in Mexican and Southwestern American cuisine, and in Creole and Cajun cooking. Cayenne pepper has a deceptively mild smell, but a potent, fiery taste. Cayenne pepper is often dried and ground to make a powdered spice. Whole cayenne peppers are also used in Sichuan, Korean, and other Asian cuisines.
Dried or powdered cayenne pepper tastes great in eggs, pasta, meat, nuts, veggies, casseroles, stews, curries, and hot sauces. Start with a half-teaspoon and work your way up to a teaspoon or so.
Cayenne Pepper Recipes
Here are a couple of cayenne pepper recipes you can try at home. First is a spicy pumpkin seed recipe, followed by a healthy buffalo wing recipe.
1. Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds with Cayenne
- 1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 4 tsp Tabasco sauce
- 1 lb (2 1/4 cups) raw pumpkin seeds
- 1 tbsp virgin coconut oil
- Heat the coconut oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and sauté for two to three minutes, until they pop and turn golden brown. Add the Tabasco sauce and cayenne pepper, toss, and cook for another minute.
- Transfer the pumpkin seeds to a sheet tray, spread them out, and let them cool before consumption.
2. Healthy Buffalo Wings with Cayenne
- 1 lb chicken tender strips
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 cup cassava flour
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp coarse gray sea salt
- 1/4 cup organic ghee
- 2 tbsp virgin coconut oil
- 1/2 cup hot sauce, and more to taste
- Cut chicken strips in half.
- In a medium bowl, combine cayenne pepper, paprika, cassava flour, pepper, sea salt, and garlic powder. In a separate bowl, pour in the hot sauce.
- Melt coconut oil over medium heat in a pan.
- Coat the chicken strips with the flour mixture, and dip the floured chicken in the hot sauce.
- Place all the chicken in a pan and cook for six to seven minutes. Add the ghee to the pan, and flip the chicken. Cook on the opposite side for another six to seven minutes, until the chicken has cooked all the way through.
- Remove the chicken from the heat, and add more sauce if necessary. Serve the buffalo chicken wings hot.
Cayenne Pepper Risks and Precautions
Cayenne pepper and capsaicin cream are recognized as generally safe to eat and for topical use, respectively. That being said, eating too much cayenne pepper at one time may give you a stomachache or cause sweating, a runny nose, or flushed skin.
Capsaicin cream can cause burning, itching, and skin irritation. It can also irritate the nose, eyes, and throat; therefore, you should be careful when using it around the eyes or sensitive skin. Also do not apply capsaicin cream to broken skin or open wounds.
Cayenne pepper may increase bleeding during and after surgery, so it is best to stop using it at least two weeks before surgery. Medications that slow blood clotting, like antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs, can interact with cayenne pepper. Some examples include clopidogrel, aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen, diclofenac, and warfarin.
If you take drugs for high blood pressure such as ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors, capsaicin cream may cause coughing. Consult your doctor before using the cream.
Capsicum can also increase the amount of theophylline the body can absorb. Theophylline is a bronchodilator that can treat asthma and other lung conditions. Taking capsicum with theophylline may therefore enhance the side effects of the drug.
Cayenne pepper and capsaicin cream are also not recommended for children under age two, since these can cause irritation or negative skin reactions.
Final Thoughts on Cayenne Pepper
The cayenne chili pepper belongs to the genus Capsicum and is a type of Capsicum annuum. Cayenne pepper can add a little spice to a meal, whether it’s eggs, pasta, veggies, seeds, or chicken wings.
The fruit of the capsicum plant contains the chemical capsaicin, which is responsible for many of the health benefits associated with cayenne pepper.
The many reported benefits of cayenne pepper include preventing allergies, relieving pain, supporting weight loss, fighting the common cold or flu, and improving digestion. Cayenne pepper is also used for detoxification, fungal conditions, cancer, psoriasis, and heart problems.
Although cayenne pepper and capsaicin cream have many benefits, consult your doctor if you’re worried about possible interactions with your current medication. Additionally, eating too much cayenne pepper at one time may cause swelling, flushed skin, a runny nose, or a stomachache.
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