Cayenne pepper is a type of chili pepper. It is named after a city in French Guiana, and is also sometimes called the red pepper or cow-horn pepper. It is found in Tex Mex, Mexica, Szechuan and Cajun food. Fresh chillies can be sliced and added to dishes, although cayenne is most-often found in powdered form. This has an attractive red color, and is sometimes sprinkled on top of food as much for aesthetic reasons as for its flavor.
Cayenne’s main marketed health benefit is that it stimulates blood circulation. This can reduce the risk of varicose veins, promote healing in the body, and encourage the blood supply to rid itself of toxins. Cayenne is said to be the most powerful herb or spice available over the counter when it comes to increasing circulation. And the hotter the variety you consume is, the greater the effect on your circulation.
Cayenne pepper can help assist with peristalsis, the muscular mechanism that squeezes food along the gut. This means that its excellent if you are constipated. Equally, if you’ve got a slightly dodgy stomach, cayenne pepper and other hot spices have been known to cause diarrhoea. If you have IBS or are recovering from a bout of diarrhoea and vomiting, cayenne may be best avoided.
Cayenne pepper stimulates the metabolism too. It is sometimes used as part of detox and weight loss program for this reason – however, you are highly unlikely to lose weight purely by consuming more cayenne pepper.
The major side effect of cayenne is that it is an irritant. If you are handling fresh cayenne peppers or the dried powder, be aware that your skin can become burnt and itchy for several hours afterwards, and there is very little you can do apart from wait for the inflammation to subside. Be particularly careful not to rub your eyes or scratch any other sensitive parts of your body after handling cayenne pepper. As with any other chili, it is advisable to wear rubber gloves if you have to chop or otherwise handle large amounts.
The irritant side effect of cayenne is sometimes recommended as a counter to the effects of arthritis. However, it seems unlikely that this would do much good, apart from replacing one form of discomfort with another.
If consumed in large quantities, cayenne pepper can contribute towards stomach ulcers forming. If you have, or suspect you have, a stomach ulcer, then you should stop taking cayenne pepper until you have spoken to your doctor about how your ulcer will be treated and whether or not cayenne is likely to do any harm. In most circumstances, however, cayenne is perfectly fine to eat, and you would have to consume enormous quantities for the spice to do you any harm.
Cayenne pepper can be found at most supermarkets. It can be cheaper to buy it from Asian food stores, however.