From the Spice Cupboard: Cayenne Pepper

Want to add a little extra kick to your dish? Just reach for a jar of this fiery-red powder! But be careful - a little definitely goes a very long way...Cayennes are a type of red chili pepper originally from French Guiana, but that spread to other parts of the world during the 15th and 16th centuries. It's a fairly hot pepper, and has a mid-range Scoville Rating of 30,000 - 50,000. We home cooks tend to use it in powdered form, though you can also find and cook with cayennes that are fresh, dried, or even made into oil.

We find that we use cayenne pepper the most in our Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Southern cooking. Just a pinch adds a sweet-spicy heat to an entire pot of beans, enchilada sauce, fried chicken, or even mac n' cheese! We also really like it in egg dishes and some dry-rubs for meat and seafood.

Cayenne also has received a lot of attention for its health benefits, and in fact it was used as a medicine before it was really considered a culinary seasoning. A diet with regular amounts of cayenne is said to have a positive affect on both the digestive and circulatory systems.

When you first start cooking with it, start off with a quarter teaspoon of cayenne for a large dish like a soup or braise, or a bare sprinkling for smaller plates like scrambled eggs. This gives you a bit of spice without feeling overwhelmed. Remember - you can always add more, but you can't take it out once it's in there!

How do you use cayenne in your cooking?

Related: Food Science: What Makes Chili Peppers Spicy?

(Images: Flickr member Grumpy Chris licensed under Creative Commons and J. Crow's Market Place)

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