Native to Central and South America, today cayenne is widely used in Mexican, Cajun, and some Asian cuisines. Hot and spicy, it has a very noticeable warming effect when consumed – thanks to the high concentrations of the active compound capsaicin. Widely studied, cayenne is decidedly warming and has numerous potential health benefits including increasing metabolism and core body temperatures.

Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens), is a member of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) Family. It is rich in vitamin C, and helps relieve chills, coughs and congestion. Its trademark heat and warming effects, which greatly exceed that of most other red peppers, is attributed to its high levels of the active compound capsaicin. For example, a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 2008 showed that capsaicin possessed thermogenic properties. The study also says that capsaicin is a “naturally occurring vanilloid, the consumption of which is linked with increased metabolic rate and core body temperature.”  According to Australian researcher Eric Colquhoun, M.B.B.S, Ph.D., these warming spices stoke your internal fire by stimulating cells to burn more oxygen. Cells are like tiny little fires: The more oxygen fuel they burn, the more heat they give off.

The Ayurveda system believes that our metabolism needs to work harder in winter to fuel the inner digestive fire, and that warming foods and spices are needed to stay healthy, with balanced energy systems. In Chinese medicine, these are referred to as yang foods, which are responsible for the activation and warming of bodily functions that keep us healthy and facilitate the flow of qi, our personal energy.

Sprinkling a bit of cayenne pepper between one’s shoes and socks can help warm the feet when needing to be outdoors. (Avoid the eyes and mouth!)