Hot! Hot! Hot!
By Russ Israel
Ever wonder what made that burrito you ordered taste so good – perfectly smoky and perfectly spicy? Most likely, it was cayenne pepper. But cayenne is not just known for its flavor. Native Americans have been using the spice in food and medicine for 9,000 years. Many ancient cultures found cayenne to relieve stomach pain and help with circulatory problems. Unfortunately, there is little modern research to back up any of these claims.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer found that cayenne pepper relieves mucositis pain, a prominent side effect of chemotherapy and radiation involving inflammation of mucous membranes along the digestive tract. However, it caused other stomach problems in too high concentrations. Interestingly, some cayenne ointments and particularly patches have been found useful in the management of neuropathic pain, for example from shingles.
It is important to remember, however, there have been almost no large studies to definitively corroborate these claims. Most found both beneficial and adverse side effects to cayenne supplements. What we do know about cayenne, is that it has almost half your daily value of vitamin A, and its active component, capsaicin, has very high antioxidant activity.
Cayenne is a great spice to put in almost any dish. It will really give your dish the extra “umph” that homemade foods often need. It goes best in Asian and Mexican dishes, but be creative with it! Make sure to taste as you add the pepper. Cayenne is very tasty, but too much of it will leave your mouth burning.
Cayenne makes a great addition to any sort of chili – it gives it a soothing, smoky flavor. Also, tossing it into some roasted nuts makes for a great snack. CFYL’s Spicy Sweet Potato Fries really makes use of the pepper’s smokiness and spiciness. For a more unusual way to use cayenne, check out our Chive Cayenne Shortbread Cookies. The cayenne in the cookies pairs extremely well with a hearty soup!