Recommendations from this Registered Dietitian (RD):
1) Show your true colors. Cayenne peppers are green initially, and turn red gradually as they ripen. The greater the redness, the hotter the pepper. Inner membranes and seeds add to the heat. Bright red color indicates high vitamin A and beta-carotene levels.When I completed my Dietetic Internship, I rewarded myself by adopting a hybrid rescue cat (a marbled Bengal to be exact) with vibrant green eyes and ginger coloring, somewhat improbably (but aptly) named Cayenne. His name partly drew me to him. In addition to the typical Bengal hyperactivity and intelligence, Cayenne has much of the fire and spicy qualities associated with the pepper for which he is named. Appropriately, he has also been for me, at times, a pain reliever, a stomach irritant, a metabolic booster (Bengals need exercise!!), and an appetite suppressant/weight loss agent. Like a Bengal cat, a spice like cayenne is not well tolerated by every person. Now, after some time with my Bengal Cayenne (and more recently his brother Cajun), I do occasionally get adventurous with spicier foods in my Southern travels. To locals, my choices are still relatively timid. But after many years of enjoying Southern food, I now view the role of cayenne pepper a little differently, and maybe someday I can make a Bengal-like leap to the next level.
2) Enjoy “hot” chocolate this summer. Cayenne is more commonly used in chocolate confections and baked goods, with great success. Choose a more healthful combination involving dark chocolate. Click here for a cayenne-spiced chocolate cupcake recipe. Keep in mind that while dark chocolate has healthy properties (such as antioxidants), it also has significant sugar, fat, and calories; enjoy in moderation.
3) Entice with spice. Cayenne pepper is one of the most frequently used spices in dishes from Louisiana, and it is part of the foundation of Cajun cooking. A recipe I have used frequently in recent years for Cajun deviled eggs can be found here.
4) Fire it up. Add a pinch of cayenne to existing recipes to enhance many of your basic meals. Introduce some kick to your standard salad dressings, soups or meats, by slicing, chopping or frying whole peppers. Try drying and soaking them in oil for a spicy infusion. Check out OKRA’s own New Orleans Style Barbecue Shrimp recipe here to see what I mean.
5) It works both ways. The capsicum’s heat can be used to mask strong flavors in other foods that some may find unappealing, particularly bitter flavors in collards, kale, and mustard greens. As I have stated in previous articles, I have no problem with culinary sneakiness when it comes to getting healthier foods into your kids or picky eaters. Try this recipe for Quick Collards with Prosciutto.
6) Turn up the heat. Though cayenne does have a thermogenic (heat-producing) effect and can boost metabolism, weight loss efforts require long-term and reasonable lifestyle changes. Maple syrup diets (which feature cayenne as an ingredient) do not qualify!
7) Feel the burn. Tolerance for spice and heat varies, and cayenne is no exception. Add cayenne to your recipes gradually when cooking (a pinch at a time) to avoid excessively hot (and painful) results. Adding potatoes or noodles will cool down a hot dish by spice absorption/neutralization. Milk or yogurt will also help to cool a burning mouth. When cooking with cayenne, avoid touching your skin, particularly your face, lips and eyes.
|Cayenne: Bengal version|
My full article on cayenne pepper can be found here.
A full archive of my articles for OKRA Magazine can be found here.