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Cayenne pepper
Why Eat It
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation


Why Eat It

Thought to have originated in Cayenne, French Guiana, cayenne pepper is a finely ground spice derived from several varieties of dried hot peppers, including the fiery seeds and membranes of hot chili peppers. Cayenne pepper is sometimes labeled "ground red pepper," though it has no connection to black table pepper.

Cayenne pepper is a concentrated source of capsaicin, the phytochemical that gives chilies their heat. In fact, the "high" that some people experience when eating cayenne pepper-spiked foods is from the capsaicin, and is perfectly safe: Scientists theorize that in response to the discomfort produced by the "burn," the brain releases endorphins--substances which, at high levels, can create a sensation of pleasure.

Capsaicin has been used commercially as an effective painkiller in topical creams to ease the pain of arthritis and shingles, and is the key ingredient in pepper sprays sold for self-defense. Capsaicin in cayenne pepper and chili peppers also helps to temporarily ease congestion by increasing secretions in the nose. Researchers are currently investigating the antioxidant and disease-protective benefits from consuming capsaicin.

Availability

Ground cayenne pepper is available in the spice section of your supermarket. You may also find cayenne pepper loose in specialty spice shops.

Shopping

Shop for cayenne in a supermarket or spice shop that does a brisk turnover and stores its spices away from direct sunlight and heat. Don't be tempted to purchase huge bottles of cayenne unless you know you'll use it within a short amount of time. Instead, buy what you think you'll need within the next few months and then replenish when necessary.

Storage

Cayenne, like other forms of dried chilies, loses flavor with age. Keep it in a tightly closed container in a cool, dark place. Like all herbs and spices, do not store it over the stove or in a hot spot in your kitchen. Cayenne keeps well in the refrigerator. If the pepper's color has faded or dulled, its flavor will also be lackluster and will not lend anything other than the slightest bit of heat to the dish you're preparing.

Preparation

Be careful when adding cayenne to a recipe and keep in mind that you can always add more if necessary. The type of heat that cayenne lends to a dish is different than black or white pepper. It is hotter but not quite as sharp as either black or white pepper.


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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