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Cole Porter didn’t write “I don’t get high from cayenne” in “I Get a Kick Out of You.” But there should be an extra line or two in praise of this wonderful little heat machine. Those who can’t get a kick from cayenne must have dormant taste buds. Of course if you savor sufficient cayenne, those taste buds will end up inert. Therefore, taste away but with caution.

Cayenne is a spicy pepper, small, brilliantly red, with a thin tapered tip. It is almost always sold dried and has a punch near the top of scorch power for dried peppers. Although it is available as whole dried peppers—look for chili de árbol in stores that specialize in Latin American groceries—cayenne is most commonly available as a powder.

This pepper is grown in the southern US, Central and South America, and Africa. However the name comes from Cayenne, a city of about 50,000 people, which is the capital of French Guiana. This small French colony bordering Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean is hot and humid year round. It is best known as the location for the notorious penal colony called Devil’s Island which was closed down in 1951. What a perfect place for this pungent pepper to take root!

Cayenne is often confused with chili powder. But that flavour is a mix of ground chilies which usually include cayenne. Cayenne, by itself, however is worth having on hand when you all you want is the punch without the complexity of chili powder.

Cayenne gets stale quickly. Buy it in small quantities, as fresh as possible.Taste a little first if you can. It should have a very slight smoky taste but the tongue is quickly numbed by the heat. This is the spark you want for soups, stews and home made bottled sauces. Use it sparingly while cooking or mixing into bloody Marys.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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