What Is Cayenne Powder?

Cayenne powder is a ground spice made from dried cayenne peppers. It has a spicy, pungent flavor and is commonly used to add heat to dishes in many cuisines around the world. Cayenne powder is made by drying and grinding cayenne peppers, which belong to the Capsicum annuum species of peppers.

What Is Cayenne Powder

Cayenne peppers are long, skinny, tapered peppers that are typically red in color when ripe. They have a moderately hot flavor, rating between 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units on the pepper heat scale. Cayenne powder provides a concentrated burst of spicy heat and a slightly fruity, earthy aroma to dishes.

Origins and History of Cayenne Powder

The origins of cayenne powder can be traced back to the cayenne chili pepper, which is named after the city of Cayenne in French Guiana. Christopher Columbus is believed to have discovered cayenne peppers in the 1500s in South America and brought them back to Europe.

By the 1600s, the dried and powdered version of cayenne peppers made its way to England, where it quickly became a popular spice. Today, cayenne powder is used in a wide range of global cuisines from Mexican and Cajun to Indian and Thai food. Both peppers and powdered spices are produced around the world.

Using Cayenne Powder in Cooking

Cayenne powder is incredibly versatile in cooking. It can be used to add heat and flavor to soups, stews, marinades, spice rubs, dressings, and more. Here are some tips for cooking with cayenne powder:

  • Start with small amounts and taste as you go. Cayenne powder packs quite a punch of heat.
  • Add it to spice mixes like homemade taco seasoning, barbecue rubs, cajun seasoning blends, and garam masala.
  • Lightly sprinkle it on top of finished dishes like tacos, pasta, eggs, grilled vegetables, and seafood.
  • Mix it into marinades, salad dressings, and dips to add a kick.
  • Stir a pinch into rice dishes, soups, chilis, and beans while cooking.
  • Combine it with herbs, spices, salt, and pepper to make your own zesty seasoning blend.
  • Mix the cayenne powder with oil or vinegar to make a spicy dipping sauce.

Because of its concentrated heat, start with small amounts like 1/4 teaspoon at a time until you reach the desired spiciness. Wear gloves when handling cayenne powder to avoid skin irritation.

Health Benefits of Cayenne Powder

In addition to adding flavor to food, cayenne powder has been associated with some potential health benefits. The main bioactive compound in cayenne peppers is capsaicin, which gives them their signature heat and may be responsible for many of cayenne's benefits.

Some of the possible benefits linked to consuming cayenne powder include:

  • Boosting metabolism - Capsaicin may increase metabolic rate and calorie burning. Consuming cayenne powder may support weight management.
  • Supporting heart health - Cayenne powder contains antioxidants and is linked to improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure, and reducing cholesterol.
  • Soothing pain - When applied topically, capsaicin creams may provide relief for joint and muscle aches. Consuming cayenne powder may also reduce migraine pain.
  • Aiding digestion - Cayenne peppers can stimulate gastric juices and support healthy digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • Detoxifying - Cayenne powder has a circulatory stimulating effect that may aid detoxification. It's used in some detox cleanse protocols.
  • Combating congestion - Cayenne powder has natural expectorant properties that can help clear mucus and relieve congestion.

Always consult your doctor before using cayenne pepper to treat any specific health condition. It’s generally safe when consumed in moderation in food by most people.

How Hot is Cayenne Powder?

Cayenne powder offers a mid-range level of heat, rating between 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units on average. However, heat levels can vary quite a bit between different types of cayenne powder and individual peppers.

The Scoville scale measures the pungency or spiciness of chili peppers based on their capsaicin content. The scale ranges from 0 for bell peppers up to over 1 million for the world's hottest peppers.

For reference, jalapeño peppers rate around 5,000 SHU, habanero 100,000 to 350,000 SHU, and ghost peppers 1 million SHU. So Cayenne lands on the hotter end of the spectrum but is not extreme.

When using cayenne powder, it's best to add it in small amounts to gauge the heat level and adjust to your personal spice preferences. Start with 1/8 to 1/4 tsp of cayenne powder and increase from there.

Tips for Cooking with Cayenne Powder

Cayenne powder is a versatile spice, but its heat can sometimes overwhelm it. Here are some tips for successfully cooking with cayenne powder:

  • Always start with a small amount and adjust up. It's easy to add more cayenne but impossible to remove it.
  • To mellow the heat, combine cayenne powder with oils, fats, dairy, or acid ingredients. These help temper the intensity.
  • Add cayenne powder at the end of cooking when possible to retain its flavor and heat.
  • Wear gloves when handling cayenne powder and avoid touching your eyes or face after contact.
  • Pair cayenne powder with cooling ingredients like yogurt, avocado, cucumber, or lime.
  • Drink milk or eat yogurt if cayenne powder causes burning discomfort. Casein in dairy products binds to capsaicin to reduce heat sensations.

With its spicy kick and bright red color, cayenne powder is a versatile spice that can take your cooking up a notch. Use it judiciously to add just the right amount of heat and flavor to your favorite dishes.


How is cayenne powder made?

Cayenne powder is made by picking fully ripe cayenne peppers, removing their stems and seeds, and leaving them out to dry completely. The dried peppers are then ground into a fine powder. This powdered form concentrates the peppers' natural spicy oils and aromas.

What dishes can I use cayenne powder in?

Cayenne powder is extremely versatile and can be added to spice rubs, marinades, dressings, dips, soups, curries, stir-fries, tacos, eggs, pasta, and more. It's great in Cajun and Creole cuisines and used around the world in all types of spicy dishes.

Is cayenne powder gluten-free?

Yes, cayenne powder is naturally gluten-free. Pure cayenne powder without any additives or anti-caking agents is safe for gluten-free diets. Always check ingredient labels to confirm purity if following a gluten-free diet.

Can I substitute paprika for cayenne powder?

Paprika and cayenne powder are not exact substitutes. Paprika ranges from sweet to mildly spicy while cayenne powder is quite hot. For best results, use paprika when a recipe specifically calls for it and cayenne when it asks for cayenne.

What's the difference between cayenne powder and cayenne pepper?

Cayenne powder is made from ground dried cayenne peppers. Cayenne pepper typically refers to the whole fresh chili pepper. The powder provides a concentrated spicy flavor while the fresh peppers can be used in various ways like sauces, salsas, marinades, and stir-fries.


With its concentrated spicy kick, bright red hue, and smoky aroma, cayenne powder is truly one of the great spices. It brings heat and dimension to cuisines across the globe.

Cayenne powder's potential health benefits are another excellent reason to add it to your diet. Just be sure to start slow and use a light hand when cooking with cayenne to keep its heat in balance.

If you love spicy food, keep this versatile and flavorful powder close at hand to jazz up your favorite dishes.

Sarah Cortez
Sarah Cortez

My name is Sarah and I'm a baker who loves trying out new recipes and flavor combinations. I decided to challenge myself to use a new spice or ingredient powder in my baking each week for a year. Some successes were the cardamom sugar cookies, vivid turmeric cake, and beetroot chocolate cupcakes. Failures included the bitter neem brownies and overwhelmingly hot ghost pepper snickerdoodles. Through this experience I've discovered amazing additions to spice up desserts while learning how to balance strong flavors. Follow my journey as I push the boundaries of baking with unique powders!

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