I love cayenne pepper. Well really, I love spice. I love spicy foods and sometimes I seem to go through phases where the food cannot be spicy enough! Other times my palate longs for a more sophisticated and complex taste structure and I don’t eat as much spice in my diet. But then I have something that lights my mouth on fire and it’s like hanging out with an old friend and the two of us just pick up right where we left off. I always knew that adding some cayenne pepper was not only a powerful flavor boost and a little bit of a rush but that it was aiding in my health. Chefs who like to cook spicy food are quick to tell you that countries popular for their use of chili peppers have the lowest rate of cancers. White people who live in places like Mexico swear that they stay cool during unbearably hot weather by eating spices that make them sweat (which in turn cools them down). But ask your Mexican friends why they eat so many peppers…they’ll tell you it just tastes good. I’ve worked in restaurants my whole life, therefore I’ve worked with a lot of Latinos and my favorite family meals have always been the ones they make…so many hot flavors…but my favorite moment of these meals is when one of the guys inevitably pulls out his own hot sauce from his bag because ours isn’t hot enough for him!
We’re all probably more than a little familiar with the Master Cleanse or maybe you remember it as the Lemonade Diet? Well it was called the Master Cleanse because some herbalists refer to cayenne as the Master Herb and cayenne feature prominently in that diet. Now…before you think I’ve lost my mind completely do not for a second think that I’m going to tell you that my latest cleanse phase is this stupid drink. Nope! Don’t worry! You can continue to read! I like food. I like to cook. I like to eat. And I think that it was pretty scary when all those silly girls were running around NYC (and elsewhere I’m sure) consuming nothing but lemon water with cayenne and maple syrup. Any diet that warns against exercise while you’re on it is NOT good for you!!! They’re trying to tell you that you’re not getting any nutrients and that you might pass out! If you're reading this and you're on this lemonade-cleanse...stop what you're doing and eat something now! Or look in the mirror...see those dark circles under your eyes? Not hot!
But the cayenne thing is a smart move. Peppers have capiscum (I should note they also have good ol’ fashioned vitamin A which is a pretty powerful anti-oxidant in it’s own right). Capiscum is the thing that makes them hot and spicy. This stimulates your cardiovascular system, increases your metablolism, and has anti-flammatory and anti-bacterial qualities…it cools you down. It cuts your appetite. It has been shown to not only prevent heart disease but I once read somewhere that a doctor stopped a heart attack on the spot by making a patient drink cayenne tea! It is used in both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda to treat stomach, digestive and intestinal issues. Native American medicine uses it topically for snake bits, and anti-itching (and sometimes for arthritis pain!). Nutritionists recommend it for it’s detoxifying properties (it does make you sweat!)
Me? I’ve used it to treat colds. Not for myself, because I never seem to get sick but others do…I’ll make a tea of lemon, honey, chamomile, and cayenne (sometimes ginger...also a beauty!). Man! That cayenne just kicks serious ass on mucus! It’s a great natural headache medicine too. A couple of years ago I had terrible headaches (due to my terrible liver chi apparently) and my acupuncturist recommended hot water with lemon and cayenne to help move the blood and increase circulation to my liver…headaches went away! I like to sprinkle it on food because…well, hey read all the above and your buddy Pedro is right...it does taste good! Lately instead of another cup of coffee or tea when I’m craving that get up and go feeling or I’m tired and unfocused I’ll have a glass of water with lemon and cayenne…no need to drink it hot...it really gets the circulation going! And…as always I have to mention my juices. In my green juice, I’ve been adding sea salt and cayenne (or sometimes turmeric but that’s another post).