The cayenne pepper is a hot chili pepper in the Capsicum family that is frequently added to dishes to increase their spiciness.
Cayenne peppers are closely related to jalapeño peppers and bell peppers and are a staple in Southwestern American and Mexican cuisine, as well as Cajun and Creole dishes. The thin red pepper has a deceptively mild smell but packs a powerful fiery taste.
Cayenne peppers are often dried and ground to make a powdered spice used for seasoning. The peppers are also used in their whole form in Korean, Sichuan and other Asian cuisines, however.
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne peppers, gives the powder its spiciness and is used to treat aches and pains of the muscles and joints.1
Cayenne pepper has also been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines to help treat circulatory problems and increase appetite.
This Medical News Today Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of cayenne pepper and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more cayenne pepper into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming cayenne pepper.
Fast facts on cayenne pepper
Here are some key points about cayenne pepper. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- The chili originated in Central and South America - it is named after the capital city of the French Guiana, Cayenne
- Cayenne pepper has been a part of Native American cuisine and medicine for at least 9,000 years
- Cayenne peppers belong to the Capsicum genus, as do jalapeño peppers
- Many of the health benefits of cayenne pepper are attributed to the ingredient capsaicin
- Capsaicin is also used as one of the main ingredients in many forms of pepper spray
- The pepper contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, potassium, manganese and flavonoids
- Capsaicin should not be exposed to open wounds or breaks in the skin
- Capsaicin could make some of the side effects of cocaine worse.
Nutritional profile of cayenne
In food, cayenne pepper can be used whole or as a powdered spice for seasoning.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one tablespoon of cayenne pepper contains 17 calories, 0.6 g of protein, 0.9 g of fat and 3 g of carbohydrates (including 1.4 g of fiber and 0.6 g of sugar).
That same 1 tablespoon serving provides 44% of your daily vitamin A needs, 8% vitamin E, 7% of vitamin C, 6% vitamin B6, 5% of manganese and 2% of iron. It also is high in flavonoids and carotenoids, giving the spice its red color.
Below is a complete nutritional breakdown of one tablespoon of Cayenne pepper:
Cayenne pepper nutritional value per tbsp (5 g)
|Calories||17 kcal||Vitamin A||2185 IU (44% DV)||Vitamin C||4.0 mg (7% DV)||Vitamin E||1.6 mg (8% DV)|
|Niacin||0.5 mg (2% DV)||Vitamin B6||0.1 mg (6% DV)|
|Calcium, Ca||7.8 mg (1% DV)||Iron, Fe||0.4 mg (2% DV)|
|Magnesium, Mg||8.0 mg (2% DV)||Phosphorus, P||15.4 mg (2% DV)|
|Potassium, K||106 mg (3% DV)||Sodium, Na||1.6 mg (0% DV)|
|Zinc, Zn||0.1 mg (1% DV)||Copper||0.0 mg (1% DV)|
|Manganese||0.1 mg (5% DV)||Selenium||0.5 mcg (1% DV)|
DV = Daily Value
Health benefits of cayenne pepper
The potential health benefits of cayenne pepper include:
Capsaicin, the active ingredient found in cayenne peppers, may have pain-relieving properties, according to a systematic review of topical capsaicin for the treatment of chronic pain published in the BMJ.
The researchers concluded that despite only moderate efficacy of capsaicin in the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal or neuropathic pain, it "may be useful as an adjunct or sole therapy for a small number of patients who are unresponsive to, or intolerant of, other treatments."1
Topical creams containing capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, have been found effective in reducing pain caused by osteoarthritis.
In addition, research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that the application of capsaicin cream among cancer survivors with postsurgical neuropathic pain can reduce postsurgical neuropathic pain and, "despite some toxicities, is preferred by patients over a placebo by a three-to-one margin among those expressing a preference."2
Capsaicin has also been shown to reduce the amount of substance P, a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain. With less substance P, fewer pain messages reach the brain and less pain is felt.3
Creams or ointments containing 0.025-0.075%-purified capsaicin have been shown in several double-blind studies to reduce the pain and tenderness caused by osteoarthritis. The suggested use for chronic pain is to apply the topical cream or ointment four times daily to the site of pain.
Animal studies have also shown a decrease in pain when taking capsaicin orally or by injection.4
Capsaicin is currently used in topical ointments and creams to relieve pain and tenderness from osteoarthritis, nerve pain from shingles, pain after surgery, pain from diabetic neuropathy and lower back pain.
Burning calories and suppressing appetite
There are many products that claim that cayenne pepper can boost metabolism and promote weight loss; however, not all scientific studies agree. Researchers at Purdue University found that cayenne pepper consumption increased core body temperature slightly, which would in turn burn calories.5,6
Modest reductions in appetite were found in another study after the ingestion of 10 g of cayenne pepper (a large dose that would need to be repeated at each meal). No follow-up studies have been carried out to show whether these small effects result in weight loss.
The results of the research revealed that those who mixed cayenne pepper with their food burned an additional 10 calories 4 hours after eating their meal compared with those who did not add cayenne.
Many studies have looked at cayenne or capsaicin combined with other ingredients, so the ingredient responsible for results cannot be differentiated. More research is needed before cayenne or capsaicin is used as a weight-loss supplement.
On the next page, we look at further health benefits linked with cayenne pepper, ways to incorporate more cayenne pepper into your diet and a number of precautions for using cayenne pepper.