Also known as
Red pepper, finger pepper, ginnie pepper, bird pepper
Cayenne is a variety of hot chilli that is available as a fresh pepper and as a dried seasoning powder. A member of the Capsicum Frutescens family, cayenne contains capsaicin, a natural compound that produces an intensely hot, biting taste. Cayenne pepper is named after its tropical city of origin, Cayenne, French Guyana.
Fresh cayenne pepper
Available year-round, fresh cayenne chillies are long, thin and sharply-pointed with straight or curled tips. They are six to 10 inches in length and green or red (when mature) in colour. They can be eaten raw, added to salads and stuffed into or cooked with a variety of savoury dishes.
Ground cayenne pepper
This hot pungent powder can be found in your grocer's spice aisle. It is commonly added to barbecue sauce, dips, stews, eggs, roasts and other spicy dishes.
Crushed cayenne pepper
Dehydrated and crushed flakes of cayenne pepper are a popular seasoning for pizza, soups, salad dressings and curry dishes.
How to select
• When buying fresh, choose peppers that are firm, smooth and glossy.
• The stems should be fresh, green and free of cracks.
• The peppers can be eaten or cooked at any stage, but the red mature peppers are hotter than the green.
• If buying crushed or powdered, purchase from a trusted store to avoid contamination and buy a fresh lot to ensure maximum aroma and flavour.
• Wash the peppers before using. To slice, begin by removing the stem and cutting the pepper in half. Next, use a teaspoon to carefully remove the ribs and seeds (this will temper the heat).
• If stuffing, leave these half sections whole and fill. Otherwise, put the peppers cut-side down and slice as desired.
• To add the mildest chilli flavour to dishes, cut a few slits in a whole pepper and skewer with a toothpick. Add it to food while cooking, then remove and discard when the dish is finished.
• Chilli peppers tend to vary in hotness, so you may need to use a different amount every time you prepare a recipe. Add chillies a small bit at a time and keep sampling the food until it reaches your desired spiciness.
How to store
• Store fresh cayenne peppers unwashed in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
• Wrap them in paper towel or place in a paper bag.
• Avoid storing them in plastic as trapped moisture will hasten spoilage.
• Check your peppers often and discard any that develop soft or dark spots.
• Store dried or crushed pepper in a cool, dark place for up to one year, and replace when the colour and aroma fade.
• The active ingredient in cayenne pepper, capsaicin, is pain relieving.
• It is also known to reduce platelet thickness, making them less "sticky". This may reduce the risk of heart attacks and other blood clots.
• Cayenne may also have a positive effect on cholesterol.
• Taken orally, it is believed to help restore a poor appetite, heal digestive problems, and support circulatory problems.