Cultivated in Central and South America and the West Indies for thousands of years as a decorative item and later as food and medicine, cayenne pepper gets its name from kian, the name of a pepper among the Tupi Indians in what is now French Guiana and also the capital city of that country. Christopher Columbus encountered them on his explorations and brought them back to Europe where they were used as a substitute for the very expensive black pepper. Magellan introduced them into Africa and Asia where they have been incorporated into their cuisines and medicinals. Today, although grown on all continents, China, Turkey, Nigeria, Spain and Mexico are among the largest commercial producers. In the U.S., they are commonly grown in Louisiana.
A member of the Capsicum family, commonly known as chile peppers, the plants have branched stems, sometimes purple-tinged leaves and white flowers which form pod-like berries which are generally small, slender and red to yellow when ripe. Propagated from seed, the tropical plants can live up to three years, but is usually grown as an annual since their yield is poor after the first year. Cayenne pepper is made from the dried pods of these pungent chile peppers and is one of the few spices always found in the ground form. The powder is deep red to nearly orange and those that include the ground seeds are hotter. The heat comes from capsacin, which is located in the inner membrane and transferred to the seeds and is measured in Scoville units. Cayenne was once thought to be the hottest pepper, however on the Scoville scales it ranks 30,000-50,000 units in comparison to habaneros at 300,000 units and a pepper from India named Naga Jolokia rated at 855,000 units!
Cayenne pepper will add zest to nearly any dish, but a little goes a long way so start with just a dash, then increase until you have the level you desire. It can be used as a spice in cooking or as a condiment at the table and is a common ingredient of Worcestershire sauce and curries. Try adding it to salsa, avocado dip, taco sauces, barbecue blends or meat marinates plus sprinkle on bacon prior to frying and add to the flour mixture used to coat fried chicken, fish or vegetables including French fries. You can even give your hot cocoa a traditional Mexican flair by adding a tiny bit of cayenne pepper. Cayenne is also used worldwide to treat a variety of health conditions including poor circulation, heart disease, chronic pain and digestive problems. In addition, it has been found to help prevent ulcers and help in weight loss by speeding up the metabolism. Cayenne peppers are an excellent source of vitamin A, C, E and beta carotene. Plus you can spray your plants with a brew of 1 teaspoon cayenne in 2 cups of boiling water to get rid of some of the worst garden bugs!
Cayenne pepper should be kept
in a tightly sealed glass jar,
away from direct sunlight
The flavor of cayenne may become
even more intense with freezing
PARMESEAN CHEESE BITES
2/3c grated Parmesan cheese
1/4tsp cayenne pepper
Stir together flour, cheese and cayenne, cut in butter until crumbly then form dough by gently pressing mixture together with hands until blended and smooth. Shape into two logs, wrap in plastic wrap and place in airtight container to freeze up to 3 months.
To bake, cut into 1/4” thick slices, place on greased baking sheet and brush with milk. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 mins. or until lightly browned.
CHEESY BLACK BEAN DIP
2 minced garlic cloves
4oz softened cream cheese
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained, rinsed and mashed
1 1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese
2/3 cup salsa
1/3c sliced green onions
1tsp dried oregano
1tsp ground cumin
1/8-1/4tsp cayenne pepper
Sauté the garlic in small amount of olive oil. Add beans, cheese, salsa, onions, oregano, cumin, and cayenne pepper to the pan and mix well. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until cheese is melted. Serve with tortilla chips
“And God said, See I have given you every herb
that yields seed which is on the face of the earth. . . “