Cayenne pepper has been used to add flavor, color, and a hit of heat to dishes for thousands of years. Some people love it, while others cackle at their heat-intolerant friends who chug water after they secretly doused their food in cayenne. Love it or hate it, there are many benefits to using this ancient spice, with more being discovered all the time.
6 Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
Firstly, you should know that chili powder is not the same thing as cayenne pepper. Storebought chili powder is usually mixed with other spices, including both spicy options and even milder flavors like cinnamon. To take advantage of the following benefits, look for 100% cayenne pepper.
1. Prevent Foodborne Illness
The use of spices in countries with hot climates dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Before refrigeration was invented, people used spices to kill bacteria and pathogens in their food. Capsicums and hot peppers, including cayenne, kill up to 75% of the bacteria they come up against, helping to prevent food-borne illness and death for generations. (1)
2. Digestive Aid
Capsaicin, the compound in cayenne pepper that makes it hot, has been found to act as a digestive aid. It does this by increasing saliva production, improving gastric motility, and may also stimulate digestive enzyme production. (2)(3)(4)
3. Anti-Inflammatory and Cancer Prevention
Studies show that capsaicin exhibits anti-inflammatory properties, making it a promising candidate for treating inflammatory diseases and cancer. It inhibits the enzyme activity of specific proteins that may cause these illnesses. (5)
4. Heal Stomach Ulcers
New research shows that capsaicin inhibits stomach acid secretion and stimulates mucus secretions and blood flow to the stomach. It activates neurons in your stomach that signal for protection against injury causing agents, and therefore prevent and help to heal gastric ulcers. (6)
5. Pain Relief
Cayenne pepper and capsaicin have shown to help with a variety of pain, including arthritis, fibromyaglia, pain from skin conditions such as shingles and psoriasis, nerve damage and pain related to diabetes, lower back pain, as well as headaches and chronic migraines. The exact mechanism for this in unknown, however it may have to do with cayenne’s anti-inflammatory properties. (7)(8) Try this cayenne pepper pain relief cream.
6. Weight Loss
Some studies suggest that cayenne pepper and capsaicin may help to decrease appetite and help people feel fuller, longer. (9) Another study done in rats shows that it may improve fat metabolism, however no human studies have been done and nothing was 100% conclusive. (10)
Classifications of Cayenne Pepper
While you may have known that cayenne is good for you, you may not have known that there are different classifications of the spice, and certain varieties have more benefits than others. There are two classifications of cayenne pepper:
Capsicum annumm, the American variety
Capsicum fastigiatum, African birdseye cayenne
They differ primarily based on heat. (11)
Scoville Heat Classification
Scoville heat units (SHU) is the most popular method of scoring peppers based on their level of spice. Cayenne pepper generally ranges from 30,000 to 140,000 SHU. American cayenne is more commonly found grocery stores and is generally in the 30k-50k SHU range. African birdseye cayenne is much more potent, extremely hot, and should be taken with caution, especially if you are new to cayenne. (11)
3 Indicators of Quality Cayenne
Cayenne pepper can have a range of color, from yellow to a reddish-brown. For the health benefits of cayenne, you want to by pepper that is a bright orange or red color. The more orange, the more beta-carotene and vitamin A is present. (11)
2. Heat Units
In order to get the benefits of cayenne pepper, it must be minimum 30-50k SHU. The SHU score is directly related to the amount of capsaicin, which is the compound that provides the disease and inflammation fighting benefits. (11)
Buying organic cayenne ensures that your product is chemical-free and has not been irradiated. (12)
Where to buy Cayenne Pepper
Most American cayenne can be bought at the grocery store, however your best bet is to go to your local health food store. Both American and African birdseye cayenne can be found online. Go here for a comprehensive list of quality cayenne pepper products.
How to use Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper is easy to use and can be incorporated into almost any meal or even dessert. If you are new to spice, start off small. As you build a tolerance for heat, you will be able to add more. Here is a list of easy recipes to include more cayenne in your diet:
Good quality organic cayenne pepper is a fun spice to add to your cooking repertoire. It adds flavor and packs as many health benefits as it does heat. Try adding a little cayenne into your next meal or snack, you’ll be surprised at the extra dimension it will add to your food!