The cayenne pepper (aka red pepper) is the fruit of capsicum annuum longum, a shrubby tropical plant that grows to about 2-4 feet in height. Technically a berry, the fruit is usually 1 to 2 centimeters in diameter and 1 to 12 centimeters in length. Although cayenne is typically red, other varieties of Capsicum annuum can vary in color from purple to orange and yellow.
Cayenne and most other Capsicum varieties are typically moderately to very spicy. Paprika is a milder, sweet-tasting fruit produced by a different variety of Capsicum annuum.
Cayenne peppers, as well as other chili peppers, have a 7,000-year history which can be traced to Central and South America regions, the lands of hot and spicy flavors. The peppers were first used decoratively and progressed as a food and medicine. Packed with vitamin C and carotene, it was found as helpful for asthma, fevers, sore throats and other respiratory ailments, digestive disturbances, poultices, and cancers.
Cayenne and other chili peppers started to spread globally during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. While exploring the Caribbean Islands, Christopher Columbus found the plants and brought them back to Europe. They made a fine substitute for the then-expensive black pepper which had to be imported from Asia. Magellan introduced cayenne peppers into Africa and Asia during his visits there.
Today's peppers are now cultivated throughout the world and are found in the cuisines of Southeast Asia, China, southern Italy, and Mexico. Chilis are mostly perennial in sub-tropical and tropical regions and are usually grown as annuals in temperate climates. The name "cayenne" was chosen because of its cultivation in a town that bears its name in French Guiana, South America.
Spain, China, Turkey, Nigeria, and Mexico are among the largest commercial producers, while the less spicy variety paprika is cultivated extensively in eastern European countries.
Cayenne pepper is packed with nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, and manganese. Its high concentration of capsaicin is what produces the high heat within cayenne pepper. Capsaicin is clinically considered an effective pain reliever, an aid to digestion and ulcers, and offers cardiovascular benefits. It also has the ability to lower body temperature and increase basal metabolic rate to stimulate the burning of fat for energy.
In regard to indigestion, studies have shown that red pepper protects against aspirin-induced stomach damage and helps abdominal pain, bloating, and nausea in people with non-ulcer dyspepsia. Some people, however, become agitated by cayenne pepper ingestion as it seems to bring on heartburn in certain individuals.
- Bastyr Center for Natural Health: Red pepper improves digestion, "It is not well understood how red pepper decreases the intensity of dyspeptic symptoms. Some studies suggest the effect may be due to the action of capsaicin, the component of red pepper that makes the eyes water and causes burning in the mouth when ingested."
Effect on the cardiovascular system is another benefit of cayenne pepper as it is a blood thinner and cleanser. It reduces blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and platelet aggregation. It is shown to increase fibrinolytic activity; that is, the ability to prevent blood clots that could lead to a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism. People in cultures consuming large amounts of cayenne pepper have much lower rates of these diseases.
Topical capsaicin creams and gels have proven effective for cluster headaches and osteoarthritis pain.
- Webmd "One form of capsicum is currently being studied as a drug for migraine, osteoarthritis, and other painful conditions."
- Benefits of Cayenne Pepper: Inexpensive natural heart disease remedy for improving blood flow and lipid levels