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Dec 16, 2012 11:00 AM

Who understands cayenne?

What is it about cayenne that makes it such a recognizable ingredient?It tastes a little medicinal, and builds a very leisurely burn that also lingers for a long time. I've cooked with dried chilis of all description, from several continents, and cayenne is, in my experience, unique.

Does anybody agree, disagree, or know why?

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  1. Cayenne is one of the hottest red chiles, 8 on a scale of 0 to 10.

    5 Replies
    1. re: GH1618

      Uh, no, it's not. Cayenne is in the 30,000/50,000 Scoville range. 3 out of 10. Maybe.

      1. re: knucklesandwich

        30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Units is correct. That's eight of ten on the heat scale used in The Whole Chile Pepper Book by Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach. Santaka is 9; Habanero is 10.

        1. re: GH1618

          Tabasco is also eight. Tabasco and Cayenne are the hottest chiles in widespread use in US cooking. Tabasco is ubiquitous in the well-known sauce. Cayenne is usually powdered. To me, they are more or less the same, depending only on whether one wants powder or a liquid (with vinegar). It's all about the heat.

          1. re: GH1618

            That book, with its heat scale, is seriously out of date. At the time it was written, habanero and scotch bonnet/caribbean red were the hottest peppers. They have been succeeded by bhut jolokia (TV's "ghost" chili) at 1 million su...then Naga viper at 1.5million su, then Butch T, and now finally Trinidad Moruga at a whopping 2 million su. So by that old scale, habanero would be less than 5. Having grown all but trinidad moruga, my habanero's seem pretty mild these days.

            1. re: EricMM

              Here's a list from someone who knows about the hotter chiles. She just lists them as 10+.


      2. I like it for a lot of things, especially in grain dishes. A rice/pasta pilaf calls for enough to taste, added to the vermicelli while it's frying, but a dash added to plain rice or polenta in the cooking water has the same kind of taste-awakening effect you might get from MSG. I also always add it to the flour when I'm making any kind of bechamel-based sauce or gravy. Better than Tabasco when you don't want any vinegar flavor.

        1. Whocares about sco/unts this chile is pretty hot. I agree, cayenne is unique and, has an effect on the blood...have done the Master Cleanse a few times( Lemon juice,water,maple syrup and cayenne). There is a magic quality induced by the cayenne.

          2 Replies
          1. re: hetook

            So what is it about cayenne that's so special? Out of thousands of chilis this one is touted for medicinal properties over and over again.

            And what is it about the burn? I think I can identify it in food just by the slow timing of the burn.

            I mean, it's not the capsaicin level alone that gives chilis their personalities.

            1. re: knucklesandwich

              Cayenne's burn happens in the upper pallet and back/middle of the tongue.It's a pointed sensation that's different than say habanero.It's easier to find aswell.

          2. I mostly use cayenne pepper in its powder form. To be honest, I don't find cayenne all that special. In fact, maybe because of its abundance or ubiquity, I find cayenne pepper to be not as interesting as others. I agree that cayenne is no where as hot as other peppers, such as habanero.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              To me its flavor is distinctive, unlike any other chiles no matter what the heat. Good paprika and habaƱeros are the same way. A pilaf just doesn't TASTE like pilaf without cayenne, nor does chicken paprikash with anything but reasonably fresh paprika; I've made that dish using other ground chiles instead, and it was quite good, but not paprikash. As for habaƱeros, there's a hot sauce (Yucateca, it's called) of an otherworldly bright green hue that is to me addicting in scrambled eggs.

              1. re: Will Owen

                I agree with you about the distinct flavor of cayenne - there's a tobacco-like mustiness under the pungency. And I love the long finish of the burn that extends into the throat. I'm not sure most people embrace the complexity of chiles beyond heat.

            2. It's not capsaicin alone that gives chiles (not chilis) their personality, it's a combination of flavor and pungency. But the hotter the chile, the more that the unique flavor of each variety is subordinated to the pungency. There is nothing special about cayenne, just where it falls on the heat scale. It falls at about the point where the pungency starts to overwhelm the flavor, so it is used for hotness, not primarily flavoring.

              Here is a link to a document from the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State Univ. describing how the pungency of the habenero was reduced so as to allow its flavor to be experienced:


              4 Replies
              1. re: GH1618

                I wonder about this. From my experience, intense heat often awakens the taste buds, stimulates a heightened sense of taste. Now it is possible to go too far in that direction, and it probably varies from person to person, but with me, I have to go quite far up the pungency scale before the heat obliterates the taste.

                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                  I have to go quite far up the pungency scale before the heat obliterates the taste.
                  Ditto. I love the fruitiness of habaneros, the smoky fruity flavor of Scotch Bonnets, and the nutty citrus notes in pequins, and they're all hotter than cayenne.

                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                    It probably has to do with how much you are willing to use of the hottest types. Many people wouldn't use enough for the flavor to stand out.

                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                      Two issues are now being discussed here.

                      1. Heat Intensity.

                      2. Flavour.

                      The Scoville unit of measure, is internationally recognized for heat intensity and heat level of various peppers. Bhut Jolokia for example, the highest Scoville level item at the moment, is now being touted as a tear gas agent !

                      Flavour on the other hand, is often a subjective measure, and the use of various chili or chile powder with food may be quite flavourful, but not necessarily hot. If I live in a culture where chiles are commonly used in food, I may be quite de-sensitized or used to them without realizing it. Thus one adds a little chili to be able to taste food.

                      My taste buds would have been conditioned that way over time, to the point of having the need to add more chili to sauces and more to meals to taste.

                      Conversley, someone coming from my area of the world to that culture might find everything burning hot, and not flavourful at all.

                      We tend to use the dry chili powders in cooking, and without vinegar, in our cooking. I will admit to carrying around a small case of Lousiana hot sauce bottles on business travels in the Mid-East. Psychosomatics notwithstanding, I found that a dash on all of my meals kept me healthy and without the customary entero problems, manyy experience in Latn America and the Mid East.