The health benefits of cayenne pepper, also known as mirchi, include weight loss, good digestion, strong immunity, and good blood circulation. It may also provide relief from heart diseases, dyspepsia, inflammation, headaches, and throat congestion. A diet containing cayenne pepper helps to avoid stomach aches, gas, and cramps. Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine recommends cayenne for proper digestion as it stimulates the flow of stomach secretions and saliva.
Cayenne peppers are long, skinny peppers with a glossy, cherry-red hue. Officially known as Capsicum annum, these peppers are members of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, along with their distant cousins, potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes. Cayenne peppers are thought to have originated in South America.
Cayenne peppers have a hot-but-not-too-hot level of kick. If you are a spicy food fan, you might be familiar with the Scoville scale. This scale measures the heat of a chili pepper, from unspicy bell peppers at one end to off-the-charts-hot ghost peppers and Carolina reapers at the other. A jalapeño pepper packs about 5,000 Scoville Heat Units, while a cayenne pepper is more like 30,000 to 50,000.
Cayenne contains vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin K, carotenoids, and vitamin B complex. It is also a source of calcium, potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber.
“Cayenne peppers are fantastic sources of antioxidants and other plant compounds that protect our cells and promote health,” says registered dietitian Alexis Supan, RD.
Antioxidants, along with related compounds like flavonoids and carotenoids, are compounds naturally found in plants. These compounds protect our cells against damage from harmful substances in the environment.
A diet rich in antioxidants can help ward off diseases, including heart disease and certain types of cancers. And cayenne peppers are a particularly good source of certain antioxidants. In one study, researchers compared antioxidant levels in 20 different hot peppers. Cayenne peppers came out on top.
There is a wide variety of common uses for cayenne.
Lots of people associate spicy foods with heartburn or an upset stomach. But for many people, spice can have the opposite effect. “Cayenne pepper is really helpful for digestion,” Supan explains. “It increases gastric juices and enzyme production in the stomach, which helps us break down food.”
There’s also evidence that spicy foods like cayenne peppers can boost the good bacteria in your gut. The microbiome is a community of bacteria in your gut that are important for a healthy immune system. Capsaicin may help promote a healthy microbiome. Spicy food can trigger heartburn in some people. If cayenne pepper doesn’t agree with you, don’t force it.
Cayenne peppers can protect heart health in several ways. There’s evidence that capsaicin can protect against inflammation in your body. Inflammation plays a role in many different diseases, including heart disease. “Cayenne peppers can keep blood vessels healthy and may help lower blood pressure,” Supan adds.
Researchers found that people who regularly ate chili peppers were 13% less likely to die than people who avoided spicy fare. Spice lovers had a lower risk of heart-related diseases like heart attacks and strokes. There has been some research that proves that giving cayenne extract orally to a patient can help to avoid heart attacks. Cayenne helps to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood and helps to dissolve fibrin, which causes the formation of blood clots. It also reduces triglyceride levels.
Researchers found that when people season their meals with cayenne pepper, they’re less likely to reach for the saltshaker. “Salt isn’t so good for heart health, especially in people with high blood pressure,” Supan says. “Increasing the amount of cayenne pepper you eat might help you cut back on salt.”
When any body part is sick, the blood flow to that area is usually affected. Cayenne helps to remove that entire block, stimulates the blood flow, makes sure that the vitamins are properly delivered to all areas, and guarantees that waste is removed.
Some evidence suggests that spicy peppers are good for an achy, or stuffy head. “When you’re stuffed up, spicy foods can help clear the congestion,” Supan says. And if your head is pounding, spicy chili or tacos may help. Smelling cayenne or having it in a drink may help relieve headaches.
Capsaicin in cayenne pepper powder stimulates secretions, which helps to clear the mucus from the nose and lungs by clearing the sinuses and causing sweating. Often, in villages in India, if a person is congested in the nose or chest/lungs, some extra mirchi is added to their regular vegetables to make them extra spicy. Tea mixed with cayenne pepper powder is believed to be good against conditions of cold and flu. Water mixed with cayenne pepper powder can be used to gargle when you have a sore throat.
Cayenne pepper powder is a source of beta-carotene, which is considered to be helpful in reducing symptoms of asthma.
Vitamin A, also known as beta-carotene, in cayenne pepper gives protection against invading pathogens. It does this by helping the development of healthy mucous membranes in the nasal passage, lungs, and urinary tracts, thereby providing immunity against infections.
Capsaicin is also used in topical form to treat pain. Creams made from the spice can be rubbed on your skin to treat arthritis pain. The topical application of cayenne pepper causes irritation in the applied area, thus helping to distract the nerves from joint pains due to arthritis.
Cayenne peppers and other capsaicin-containing spicy foods may help with weight loss. Spicy foods can rev up the metabolism a bit, helping burn calories. It can also help you feel fuller after eating. “The effect isn’t enough to overcome an unhealthy diet,” Supan warns, “but as part of a nutritious eating plan, spicy foods may suppress appetite and help with weight loss.”
Capsaicin is an important bioactive phytochemical that acts as a cancer preventive agent. A review study published in Anticancer Research suggests that capsaicin exerts chemopreventive effects, induces apoptosis, and helps prevent further cancer cell growth.
Word of Caution: Like all other foods or herbs, we must be careful when using this herb. Excess consumption may cause burning sensations in the throat, stomach, or rectum.
How to Buy
Growing cayenne peppers will yield plenty of peppers. They can be stored by drying, pickling or preserving in oil. You can purchase fresh cayenne peppers and discard limp or rotten peppers. Food preservation is safest and most delicious with peppers picked immediately before processing. As soon as pepper are picked, the process of food spoilage begins.
You can also find cayenne pepper powder in most markets.
How to Store
To prepare pickled cayenne peppers:
- Prepare one-pint Mason jars by washing, rinsing and drying either in a dishwasher or by hand. A clean jar is necessary to ensure no additional bacteria or debris is introduced to your peppers. These jars are sealed using a two-part lid consisting of a lid and a screw band. Do not re-use lids. Heat the lid of the two-part lid in hot water.
- Set peppers briefly in cold water.
- Cut one to two small slits into each pepper to allow the liquid and oil to penetrate.
- Pack peppers tightly into clean jars, adding spices, such as garlic, to your taste. Traditionally a pint jar needs two cloves of fresh garlic and 1 tablespoon of dried oregano.
- Prepare a solution of 5:1:0.75 of white vinegar, water and olive oil. Using 5 cups vinegar, 1 cup water and three-quarters of a cup of olive oil makes seven or eight pint jars of peppers. Add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of salt to this amount of solution and bring to a boil.
- Pour the hot solution over packed peppers and seal with fresh two-part lids. Leave an inch of headspace below the lid of the jar, especially since the oil tends to soften the rubber lining the lid. Wipe the rim of the jar with a paper towel or damp cloth to remove excess pickling liquid before sealing.
- Process pint jars for 15 to 20 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Reprocess jars that do not seal. After processing the lid should pop down and not be flexible if pressed. Processing peppers in oil can be particularly problematic and may take experience before perfecting.
*Wear gloves and do not touch your eyes during picking and processing of hot peppers.
How to Cook
Fresh or powdered, cayenne pepper is a super addition to your diet, Supan says. “One of the great things about cayenne is that, unlike a lot of spices, it seems to blend with every type of cuisine,” she says. “It’s used in dishes from just about every country in the world.”
There are lots of ways to incorporate cayenne into your diet:
- Mexican hot chocolate: Stir powdered cayenne into hot cocoa for a sweet-and-spicy kick.
- Boost your coffee: Spice-up your coffee.
- Grab a pan: If you’re trying fresh cayenne peppers for the first time, sauteing is the most user-friendly way to prepare them, Supan says. “Chop them up, sauté them and add them to a stir fry,” she suggests.
- Go brave with raw peppers: Raw, fresh cayenne peppers pack the most punch. If you want to fully embrace their spicy power, try chopping them into small pieces and adding them to homemade salsa.