The cayenne pepper is known by several names which include the Guinea spice, cow-horn pepper, red hot chili pepper, aleva, bird pepper, or red pepper. Guessing from the names, cayenne pepper is a very hot and pungent spice. It is very popular in flavoring all sorts of dishes.
It is capsicum that is named after Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana. It is related to bell peppers, jalapeños, and paprika among others. It is native to the Central American region and is very popular in Mexican cuisines. It is also popular in the Indian subcontinent, where it was introduced by Spanish and Portuguese explorers.
Cayenne pepper is a perennial shrub, that reaches about 1 meter in height. It does well in drained sandy soils and warm tropical and temperate climates. It takes slightly over three months to mature. where its bushy woody stems produce white flowers all around which turn out to be the hot spicy green fruit that turns deep-red when ripe. The fruit contains little white seeds.
The cayenne is usually harvested when very ripe then dried off and ground to form the powder. In some cuisines, it can be used whole as in Asian cuisines like Korean and Sichuan.
Cayenne is better purchased whole rather than in powdered form from markets to avoid adulterated powder. From reputable food processors then the powder is more likely to be pure.
When buying fresh pods, they should be brilliant in color and firm. They should be free from spots or mold. The pods should not be shriveled. You can intentionally buy dried pods. These should be completely dried with no moisture at all in them.
Dried cayenne can keep for several months at room temperature and the same goes for powdered fruit. Fresh pods can keep for about a week when refrigerated in a zip-lock plastic bag.
Uses of Cayenne Pepper in Your Kitchens
Fresh cayenne should be thoroughly washed in cold running water to remove any dirt and residual fungicides. The fresh vegetable can be sliced or slit along the length. In cooking, you can add the pods to the chutney, sauce, soup, stew, or any meal that calls for it in the recipe. This is normally the case in most South Asia Recipes where it is used as a vegetable.
The dried form is normally ground into powder. The powdered form is usually added to the meal based on the instructions in the recipe. The powder is generally used as a condiment mainly in Mexican, Mediterranean, and American cooking.
Cayenne is great mixed with beans, fish, kale, meats, okra, poultry, potatoes, and pumpkin. It usually compliments tomato, garlic, onion, cumin seeds, coriander, and other spices. It is an essential ingredient in curry and Masala dishes. It can also be found in pepper sauces both prepared and commercially bought.
It can also be used as a condiment to flavor semi-mature mango fruit.
Nutritional Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne contains 318 calories per 100 grams and is also rich in fat and dietary fiber. it contains no cholesterol. It is rich in B-complex vitamins including folates, niacin, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and thiamin.
It is very rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E as well as vitamin K. It is a good source of antioxidants and essential oils, most notably capsaicin which gives it its strong hot taste.
This spice is also a good source of potassium, copper, and calcium. It is very rich in iron and manganese as well as magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and selenium.