The cayenne pepper is a hot chili pepper in the Capsicum family that is frequently added to dishes to increase their spiciness.
Here, we provide a nutritional breakdown of cayenne pepper, 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.
This Medical News Today Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Contents of this article:
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 a city of the same name in French Guiana
- Cayenne pepper has been a part of Native American cuisine and medicine for at least 9,000 years
- Many of the health benefits of cayenne pepper are attributed to the ingredient capsaicin
- The pepper contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, potassium, manganese, and flavonoids
- Open wounds or breaks in the skin should not be exposed to capsaicin
What is cayenne pepper?
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 cooking. 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.
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.
Cayenne pepper has also been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines to help treat circulatory problems and increase appetite.
Health benefits of cayenne pepper
The potential health benefits of cayenne pepper include:
Topical creams containing capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, have been found effective in reducing pain caused by osteoarthritis.
Capsaicin, the active ingredient found in cayenne peppers, may have pain-relieving properties.
A recent review of research into cayenne pepper's ability to reduce pain, concluded:
"Though injection evokes short term pain, the brief systemic exposure and potential to establish long-term analgesia without other sensory changes creates an attractive clinical profile."
In addition, research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that the application of capsaicin cream among cancer survivors can reduce post-surgical neuropathic pain and, "despite some toxicities, is preferred by patients over a placebo by a three-to-one margin among those expressing a preference."
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.
Creams or ointments containing 0.025-0.075 percent 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.
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 containing cayenne pepper that claim to 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.
Modest reductions in appetite were found in another study after the ingestion of 10 grams 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.
Cayenne pepper is often used as a home remedy for coughs, colds, and congestion. Although there are no studies to support this use, cayenne may help to temporarily relieve congestion by shrinking the blood vessels in the nose and throat.
One popular home recipe combines 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of water to take by the teaspoon. Other people mix cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar into a hot tea to clear the sinuses.
Nutritional profile of cayenne
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one tablespoon of cayenne pepper contains 17 calories, 0.6 grams of protein, 0.9 grams of fat, and 3 grams of carbohydrates (including 1.4 grams of fiber and 0.6 grams of sugar).
Cayenne pepper nutritional value per tablespoon or 5 grams (DV = Daily Value):
|Calories||17 kilocalories||Vitamin A||44 percent DV||Vitamin C||4.0 milligrams (7 percent DV)||Vitamin E||1.6 milligrams (8 percent DV)|
|Niacin||0.5 milligrams (2 percent DV)||Vitamin B6||0.1 milligrams (6 percent DV)|
|Calcium, Ca||7.8 milligrams (1 percent DV)||Iron, Fe||0.4 milligrams (2 percent DV)|
|Magnesium, Mg||8.0 milligrams (2 percent DV)||Phosphorus, P||15.4 milligrams (2 percent DV)|
|Potassium, K||106 milligrams (3 percent DV)||Sodium, Na||1.6 milligrams (0 percent DV)|
|Zinc, Zn||0.1 milligrams (1 percent DV)||Copper||0.0 milligrams (1 percent DV)|
|Manganese||0.1 milligrams (5 percent DV)||Selenium||0.5 micrograms (1 percent DV)|
Cayenne pepper is also high in flavonoids and carotenoids, giving the spice its red color.
How to incorporate more cayenne pepper into your diet
Cayenne pepper is a versatile spice that can be added to many different meals easily.
Cayenne is an extremely versatile spice that can be added to everything from fish to eggs, soups, casseroles, tacos, and pasta.
- Add cayenne pepper to spice mixtures such as curry or barbecue rub
- Make a homemade dressing using part oil, part vinegar, cayenne pepper, and other seasonings
- Spice up your marinades by adding cayenne pepper
Or, try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:Spicy Indian salmon
Spicy honey-glazed pork chops
Fish tacos with peach jalapeño slaw
Fresh Texas salsa with green hatch chilies.
Precautions and side effects of eating cayenne pepper
Cayenne pepper is commonly used in combination with lemon juice and water for detox diets. There is little research to support the use of detox diets.
Capsaicin cream should not be applied to open wounds or broken skin. It is not recommended to give to children under 2 years of age.
Use gloves when applying capsaicin cream and be sure to wash your hands after use. You may experience a burning sensation where the cream is applied. Avoid contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth. Capsaicin cream should not be used with a heating pad or before or after a hot shower.
Capsaicin capsules may cause stomach irritation and increase stomach acid. People with ulcers or heartburn should talk to their doctor before using capsaicin. Take caution if deciding to use a supplement containing capsaicin. Supplements are not regulated and may or may not contain what they claim.
It is the total diet and overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and to achieve good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.