The Complete Guide to the Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne peppers are a beloved variety of the Capsicum annum plant. You probably are very familiar with this pepper species not only because of cayenne, but also because of the jalapeno, pimento, and even the bell pepper.

The Origins of the Cayenne Pepper

Map of the voyage of Christopher Columbus
Map of Columbus’ voyage that carried that Cayenne Pepper

This pepper is native to South America but was brought to Europe by Columbus in the 1400s. Today, many of these peppers still grow in South America, although you can commonly find them in India, Mexico, parts of Africa, and the United States. Basically, these peppers will grow in any tropical or sub-tropical region where you plant them.

There is some disagreement about how this pepper got its name. Most people acknowledge that the name is related to the capital of French Guiana, which is also named Cayenne. However, people disagree on which name came first: the pepper or the city. Whatever the case is, this pepper has been around, bringing joy (and tears) to people for thousands of years. Everyone knows this pepper as the cayenne today, but it’s also gone by a few other names. The Bird’s Beak, Chilliepin, Guinea Pepper, and even the mad pepper are all variations on the cayenne pepper’s name.

Flavor Profile

Unlike some hot peppers, you’ll find that this pepper is actually fairly low on the scale. It’s only slightly aromatic, so it won’t slap you in the face with powerful spice. Many people who are not big fans of spicy foods are able to tolerate them. Usually, these spicy peppers rate somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) while hotter varieties can rate up to 100,000 SHU. However, they’re about twelve times hotter than the average jalapeno. So, if the jalapeno is already too much heat for you, you probably shouldn’t pick up a cayenne pepper.

Fresh and powdered Cayenne Pepper
Fresh and powdered Cayenne Pepper

Many people consider the cayenne to be the perfect balance between hot and super-hot. It is undoubtedly one of the most popular peppers!


Whether in seasoning form or the whole pepper, one thing’s for sure: the cayenne is a fiery red color. It will color nearly any dish you add it to! There are some other colors of these peppers like yellow and green, but these are less common.

You might notice that the cayenne pepper bears a striking resemblance to the bird’s eye pepper. Both these types of peppers are thin and short, although the cayenne pepper is typically a little longer—usually three to five inches long. There’s a bit of a curve at the end of this pepper. While the bird’s eye’s skin is generally smooth, the cayenne’s skin tends to be rougher and includes a few more wrinkles, making it easy to distinguish.

Benefits of the Cayenne Pepper

The cayenne pepper is famous for its many health benefits. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a natural remedy that boasts more versatility than this popular pepper. But why would you pay for the supplements when these are the same benefits you can get from cooking your favorite dish with the whole pepper?

Rich in Vitamins and Minerals

The cayenne pepper is a great source of Vitamin A, which keeps your immune system healthy and strong as you fight off infections. These peppers are also a great source of other key vitamins such as Vitamin B6, C, and K. They have a high percentage of your daily recommended doses of iron, manganese 2, magnesium, and potassium.

Weight Loss Aid

Cayenne pepper can help with weight loss
Cayenne Pepper can also help with weight loss

If you’re looking to lose some weight (or even just maintain a healthy weight), peppers are one of the best ways to go about doing it. Eating these peppers isn’t a fad diet that will do you more harm than good. It’s actually effective! Not only are these peppers already good for you, but you can actually burn calories while eating when you add cayenne pepper to your food. With the capsaicin, you get from cayenne peppers, your body temperature increases. Whenever your body temperature increases, you sweat and burn more calories. These amazing peppers also help boost your metabolism. With a good diet and regular exercise, these peppers can help you be well on your way to meeting your goal weight.

Clear, Soft Skin

If you have problems with your skin such as eczema flare-ups, itchiness, or dry patches, cayenne pepper could be the answer to get your skin back. The pepper’s benefits also include Vitamin E, which is great for your skin’s health. If you’re wanting to have smooth, hydrated skin again that isn’t constantly irritated, eating these peppers could definitely help.

Cooking with Cayenne

Getting this pepper in powdered form is easy. Nearly every grocery store contains the pungent red spice. It’s finding the fresh pepper that can be the trick. But if you do some research, it will be well worth your time.

Incorporating the Cayenne Spice

Of course, the most common way to cook with this pepper is in its seasoning form. This seasoning is created after the pepper has been dried and ground into a fine powder. A bottle of the pepper’s seasoning originates in the pepper’s flesh and tiny seeds. What you may not know is the seasoning is popular in both savory and sweet dishes. Dark chocolate and cayenne are an especially magical combination! The two go together well in cookies, brownies, hot cocoa, and more.

Cayenne pepper goes well with chocolate and other sweets
Cayenne Pepper, dark chocolate squares, cinnamon sticks, and star anise

Adding Some Heat to All Your Favorites

For more “traditional” recipes that incorporate this pepper, try making some cayenne pepper sauce! This is great to go with all kinds of meat for an extra kick of flavor and spice. Cayenne is great in chili, salsa, chicken, and fish. It pairs great with spices like cinnamon, paprika, and cumin. Some people mistake cayenne pepper (the seasoning) for paprika and vice versa. Although both seasonings are vibrant shades of red, and both will make any dish spicier, cayenne is definitely more pungent.

Elevating Dishes of Every Cuisine

Although this pepper comes from South America, it’s also a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine. This pepper is versatile, whether it’s whole or in its spice form. It can take any recipe from average to extra-special. If you enjoy hot red pepper flakes, you’ve probably been eating flakes from the cayenne pepper without even knowing it.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating this wonderful pepper, now is the perfect time for a taste! These peppers are a favorite seasoning for a reason. But they are so much more than just a spice!

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