7 Ways Cayenne Pepper Is the MVP of My Kitchen

published Mar 2, 2016
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(Image credit: showcake)

Cayenne pepper is the Shakira of spices: bold, beautiful, and smokin’ hot (not to mention an international sensation). Originally cultivated in the Cayenne region of French Guiana, the pepper is frequently found in Indian, Asian, Mexican, African, Middle-Eastern, and Southern American cuisines, to name a few. It’s also an incredibly affordable way to add sweet heat to whatever’s on your stovetop. Unlike hot sauce or Sriracha, you aren’t adding any additional liquid or acid components to your dish when you want to punch up the heat.

Here are a few ways I spice up my favorite dishes. Just be aware — a little of the red powder goes a long way, so it’s best to start slow and taste as you go.

1. Take canned soup to the next level.

Cayenne powder and soup go together like Simon and Garfunkel; they’re absolutely made for each other. I add cayenne to chicken noodle soup, lentil soup, chilis, and stews. Basically, if your meal comes out of a can in your market’s soup aisle, it can handle some cayenne.

2. Go Mexican with your hot cocoa.

Add a pinch of cinnamon and cayenne to your next mug of hot chocolate. The warmth of the cinnamon and the smoky heat of the cayenne give bold, rich flavor to every sip. It’s an easy way to upgrade your hot chocolate game.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

3. Make better popcorn.

Want to make your tastebuds explode? Melt some butter and brown sugar with a pinch of salt and cayenne; drizzle over your next batch of popcorn. Martha Stewart has a more detailed recipe for this. Your popcorn will taste sweeter and hotter than Oscar Isaac standing outside your door holding a bouquet of red roses.

4. Spice up your weeknight stir-fry.

Instead of sprinkling the cayenne on your food, try adding it to the oil. This process, known as blooming, amplifies the flavor of the spice in question (here, cayenne). I have a standard weeknight veggie dish I make where I bloom the cayenne in olive oil, then toss in whatever veggies I have in the fridge, like an onion, zucchini, or some frozen fire-roasted corn. Then I serve the veggie mix over couscous dotted with fresh basil and cashews. But the cayenne is the real star of the show since it gives everything in the bowl a pleasant heat.

5. Heat up your frozen pizza.

I used to be a hot-sauce girl, then I was a red pepper-flakes girl, but now it’s all about the cayenne when I’m (ahem) heating up frozen pizza. The powder adds a hit of flavor without making the pizza soggy.

6. Make your own energy drink.

Spicy lemonade is a fabulous midday pick me up. The sugar gives you an energy boost and the cayenne gets the blood flowing. Next time you feel your energy taking a post-lunch dip, instead of reaching for an energy drink, add a shake of cayenne to your beverage of choice.

7. Mix it with honey.

Move over, Beyonce and Jay-Z — cayenne’s heat and honey’s sweetness are the real power couple here. When I make fried chicken— the Brooklyn Bowl fried chicken recipe is my go-to recipe — I like to drizzle a little honey mixed with cayenne on top. It’s sort of like my own DIY hot honey. It’s also fabulous on chicken nuggets. I’m telling you, it’s addictive!

What foods do you sprinkle cayenne on? Share in the comments!