Portuguese Cayenne Peppers
It is difficult to say very much about peppers without falling into complex and conflicting factoids. Take for instance the term "Cayenne." Many European languages generically identify hot chilies as "from Cayenne." At first glance this might seem a reference to the capital of French Guyana where a fair number of chilies are, in fact, grown. But chilies are from South America and if there is any connection between the city and the chilies it is the other way around. We apparently started to called chilies "cayenne" prompted by an early Native American term "cayan" which was used interchanably for "chilies" and "hot."
The Portuguese connection to chilies is more straightforward. We know that they acted as enthusiastic taxis for chilies, spreading them in the 15th century from Central America to Africa, India and beyond. The exact type of chili they spread around the globe isn't known but descriptions do track with what we call "Cayenne" today. The pods were long and tapering. They had hot-moderate heat and they were useful for fresh eating and for making spice. Today there are several types of Cayenne peppers but the Portuguese Cayenne (sometimes called "Portuguese Hot" or simply "Portuguese Peppers") is the largest and it is believed to be the oldest.
Cayenne peppers have a long history of use outside of the kitchen. The principal chemical responsible for the 'heat' in chili peppers is capsaicin. The alleged healing and health benefits of capsaicin and particularly Cayenne peppers are a durable feature of ancient folk medicine and present day health mythology. But where there is heat there can be fire. Capsaicin is used in Western medicine, too. It has modest benefit as a topical anesthetic and it may help some people with gastric motility disorders.
My crop of Portuguese Cayenne peppers is headed to the dehydrator. While I use Cayenne as a spice about as often as I travel to Portugal I think its time for a change. If you'd like to join me the dried versions should be along soon.
These Portuguese Cayenne peppers were grown organically in my garden in the Valley of the Moon.