Cayenne pepper is a red hot chili pepper that provides a distinctive burning heat when eaten. This heat, and the cayenne pepper benefits, are due to the presence of capsaicin, an irritant alkaloid that burns delicate tissues such as the lips and mouth.
Chillies are green when immature, and when ripe they turn yellow, scarlet, chocolate-brown, purple or black, depending on the strain.
Cayenne pepper benefits
Cayenne pepper benefits depend on the presence of steroidal saponins known as capsaicinoids, of which around 70% is in the form of capsaicin. These capsaicinoids are especially concentrated in the white tissue supporting the chilli seeds. The hotter the pepper, the higher its capsaicin content.
Cayenne pepper stimulates circulation, promotes sweating, aids digestion and increases your metabolic rate so you burn fat faster. Researchers have found that your metabolic rate increases by up to 50% for three hours after eating a spicy meal. This is why you start to sweat when eating a hot chilli pepper, and why chillies can boost the amount of energy and fat you burn to boost weight loss.
As a bonus, eating chillies also stimulates production of natural painkillers (endorphins) in the brain to lift your mood. Cayenne also improves glucose control, cholesterol balance and has antioxidant actions.
As a result of all these benefits, researchers have found that people who eat the most cayenne pepper were 13% less likely to die from any medical cause during a follow-up period of 19 years, than those who did not eat hot red chili peppers.
Cayenne pepper and weight loss
There is mounting evidence that cayenne chili peppers can support weight loss by reducing calorie intake, boosting fat metabolism and increasing the amount of energy lost as heat (thermogenesis). These effects are due to capsaicin interacting with fat cell receptors and through triggering changes within the sympathetic nervous system to activate a type of fat known as brown adipose tissue which generates heat.
Cayenne pepper increases fat burning
Capsaicins increase the rate at which you burn fat to produce energy. This effect results from an interaction between chilli capsaicins and a gut receptor that sends a signal to the brain to boost the metabolic rate by switching on brown fat cells.
Scientists who fed chili pepper extracts to healthy volunteers found that the amount of heat they generated after eating increased by over 50%.
The results from 20 trials involving over 560 volunteers show that eating chili pepper capsaicinoids can increase energy expenditure by approximately 50 kcals per day.
Scientists have also found that a capsaicin derivative, called dihydrocapsiate, has similar actions to capsaicin but does not interact with pain receptors to cause burning irritation. When this chilli extract was given to 33 volunteers, together with a liquid meal replacement providing 800 calories per day, those taking the chilli extract burned a lot more fat, and lost over a pound more in weight over the month than those taking an inactive placebo.
Cayenne pepper suppresses appetite
Cayenne pepper suppresses appetite by increasing sensations of fullness and decreasing the desire for food – especially carbohydrate-rich foods. People who regularly eat spicy food containing chillies tend to eat less food overall and are less likely to become significantly overweight.
Results from 8 clinical trials involving 191 people found that eating cayenne capsaicinoids extracts before a meal reduced energy intake by 74 kcals. A minimum dose of 2mg capsaicinods was needed to reduce food intake and support weight management. Cayenne may also alter preferences for carbohydrate-rich foods to foods with a higher fat content.
Cayenne and weight loss
To obtain the best fat burning effect from eating red peppers, you would need to eat 10 g per meal. While this intake is tolerated by people used to consuming spicy foods such as vindaloo curry, it is ten fold higher than is usually eaten by people in the west.
A study therefore looked at the effect of eating lower levels of chilli pepper in a single meal. Twenty-five lean, healthy, men and women volunteered, of whom 13 were used to eating spicy food and 12 were chilli ‘virgins’. At various times, all ate a standardized quantity of 1 g chilli, or their preferred quantity (1.8g for regular spicy food users, but just 0.3g for non-users) after which their energy expenditure, core body and skin temperature, and appetite were measured.
The amount of energy burned, and core body temperature were greater, and skin temperature was lower, after eating 1g chilli pepper, and energy intake was lower after eating 1g chilli pepper in non-users, but not in users. Similarly, 1g chilli reduced the preoccupation with food, and the desire to consume fatty, salty or sweet foods were decreased more in non-users than users. This suggests that as you get used to the heat of chilis, it’s a good idea to keep the ‘heat’ of your food as hot as you can as you may become desensitized to the metabolic and appetite effects of chilli pepper with long-term spicy food intake.
Cayenne pepper health benefits
Other cayenne pepper health benefits appear to promote long-term good health and reduce mortality at any age from any medical cause.
Cayenne contains substances that thin the blood to reduce unwanted blood clots, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol balance and glucose control, as well as reducing inflammation.
Data involving over 35,000 people who were followed for ten years those who ate spicy foods at least once a day (six or seven times a week) were 14% move likely to survive than those who ate spicy food less than once a week. Eating spicy food significantly reduced mortality from any medical cause, including cancer, heart and lung diseases.
Another recent study assessed the frequency of hot red chili pepper consumption against mortality in 16,179 adults who were followed for around 19 years. Total mortality for those who regularly ate hot red chili peppers (cayenne) was 21.6% compared to 33.6% for those who did not – an absolute risk reduction of 12%, which increased to 13% when adjusted for other diet and lifestyle factors. This suggests that cayenne chili peppers have powerful beneficial effects on health which relate to glucose control, cholesterol balance, diabetes, obesity and antioxidant protection.
How hot are cayenne peppers?
The heat of chili (or chile) peppers was originally measured by the Scoville Scale, which rated heat depending on the number of times the raw juice must be diluted before testers could no longer detect the heat.
On the Scoville scale, the sweet bell pepper has a rating of Zero (no capsaicin) while the habanero has a rating of 350,000 plus – this means its raw juice must be diluted more than 350,000 times before its capsaicin becomes undetectable. This concentration of capsaicin can literally cause a chemical burn on the skin.
In modern times, laboratory methods are used to accurately determine the capsaicinoid concentration of chili peppers, rather than relying on the capsaicin sensitivity of a tester’s tongue. The Scoville rating remains a popular way to compare the heat of chilies, however.
Cayenne peppers have a Scoville rating that varies between around 30,000 and 50,000 meaning that cayenne juice must be diluted this many times before the capsaicin heat disappears.
Type of pepper
|15,000,000 –16,000,000||Pure capsaicin|
|1,400,000 – 2,200,000
||Carolina Reaper Pepper|
|500,000 – 2,000,000||Trinidad Moruga Scorpion|
|350,000 – 577,000||Habanero|
|100,000 – 350,000
|100,000 – 200,000
||Jamaican Hot Pepper|
|50,000 – 100,000
||Cayenne Pepper, Tabasco Pepper|
|10,000 – 23,000||Serrano Pepper|
|7,000 – 8,000||Tabasco Sauce|
|2,500 – 8,000||Jalapeno Pepper|
|500 – 1000||Anaheim Pepper|
|100 – 500||Pimento; Pepperoncini|
|0||Sweet Bell Pepper|
How to add cayenne pepper to your diet
Add cayenne chili pepper to curries, soups, stews. Use sweet chili jelly as a conserve with meats and cheeses, and you can make a wonderful chili sauce to drizzle over almost any savoury food.
Image credits: george_hodan;