From the Piperaceae family, the black pepper plant is a trailing, woody vine that grows in tropical climates. After a few years, it bears tiny white blossoms that become berries known as peppercorns. For black peppercorns, the berries are picked before full maturity and turn dark when dried. Variations of green and white peppercorns are obtained by choosing different stages at which to pick the berries.
This is the same spice that, in centuries past, spawned battles, launched voyages, and became one of the signs by which men judged other men’s wealth. Today, we get to simply buy it at the supermarket, exported from India and Indonesia, the largest producers. Available whole, crushed, or ground into powder, many households use a hand-held mill for grinding their own peppercorns, which have an almost indefinite shelf life, to get the freshest product. Ground pepper retains its optimum freshness for about three months, and is sometimes “adulterated” with something other than black pepper, fresh or otherwise. Freshly ground pepper turns vinegar and oil dressing – or any dressing for that matter – into a work of culinary art. When cooking, use it at the last moment to retain the full flavor of the essential oils.
Health Benefits of Black Pepper
What an ounce of this spice offers is a lot: 79% of the daily recommended value of the manganese; 57% of the vitamin K; 45% of the iron, and 30% of the fiber. It’s true that one would never have that much pepper in a day, but this helps calculate the nutrients you’d get in a teaspoon: 6% of the manganese needed for an entire day, for instance.
Black pepper helps shore up the system with other minerals like potassium for controlling the heart rate and blood pressure, and calcium to strengthen your bones and teeth. Zinc, according to studies, promotes cell growth and is a stealth antioxidant, protecting against free radical damage. Iron carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of our bodies and helps muscles with oxygen use and storage. As for magnesium, scientists say more than 300 enzymes use it as a cofactor. It helps keep blood vessels pliable, builds bones, and is an anti-inflammatory. Potassium, another mineral in black pepper, helps improve your stomach’s ability to digest foods and promotes intestinal health.
Because black pepper is a carminative, it discourages intestinal gas from forming, and as a bonus, the outer layer of the peppercorn aids in the break-down of fat cells. It warms the body so it promotes sweating, which helps rid the body of toxins.
Black pepper contains essential oils like piperine, an ammonia-derived alkaloid, which gives pepper its bold character and heat, as well as the monoterpenes sabinene, pinene, terpenene, limonene, and mercene, which give this spice its aromatic qualities. All combined, these oils in aromatherapy can help in easing aching muscles, chilblains, and arthritis, and have curative properties for constipation and sluggish digestion.
A study funded by the McCormick Science Institute regarding the potential health benefits of black pepper noted first its ability to enhance digestive tract function. One compound, piperine, was shown to have promise in treating the pigmentary skin disorder called vitiligo, but may also be toxic to the parasite that causes malaria. Piperine increases the body’s ability to absorb betacarotenes, selenium and B-vitamins (which in black pepper means pyridoxine, riboflavin, thiamin and niacin), as well as other nutrients from food.
Another study that showed that the growth of several bacteria types was inhibited when black pepper was introduced concluded with a statement that black pepper may contain not only anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial and fever-reducing actions, but immune system-enhancing properties as well.
Black Pepper Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies Done on Black Pepper
Sensory cues associated with cigarette smoking can suppress smoking withdrawal symptoms, including the craving part, according to one study. A vapor of black pepper essential oil was one of three conditions given to 48 cigarette-smoking study participants in a three-hour session, conducted after the subjects were deprived of cigarettes overnight. A second group inhaled from a mint/menthol cartridge device, and a third group from an empty cartridge.
Reported cigarette craving was significantly reduced in the pepper condition relative to the other two, as well as alleviated symptoms of anxiety. But the intensity of sensations in the chest was significantly higher for the pepper condition, supporting the view that respiratory tract sensations are important in alleviating smoking withdrawal symptoms.
The conclusion: black pepper constituents may be useful in developing smoking cessation treatments.1
Black pepper and its active principle exhibit antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory activities being unknown, researchers undertook a study to analyze these properties. Human cancer cell proliferation was noted as being inhibited when black pepper was present, and overall, results indicated that black pepper and its constituents do exhibit anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer activities.2
Black Pepper Healthy Recipes:
|2 tablespoons salt
||1 pound grass-fed beef or buffalo/bison strip loin
||¼ cup peppercorns, crushed roughly
||¼ cup butter
|1 teaspoon tamari sauce (wheat-free)
||2 tablespoons beef stock
||2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Place peppercorns on a plate and press steak into peppercorns to cover both sides thickly. Work peppercorns into the meat using your hands.
- Sprinkle a skillet with the salt and over medium heat, cook until salt begins to brown. Add steak to the pan and brown over high heat. Reduce to medium heat and cook until it reaches the desired degree of doneness, approximately three to four minutes per side for medium-rare. Discard drippings. Note: as much as possible, avoid charring the meat to prevent the formation of carcinogenic chemicals.
- In a separate saucepan, combine butter, tamari, beef stock, and lemon juice.
- Serve the steak with the sauce on the side.
This recipe makes 3 to 4 servings.
(From Dr. Mercola’s No-Grain Diet)
Black Pepper Fun Facts
Sometimes referred to as "black gold" in Greece, black pepper has been used by more than one ancient civilization as a form of currency. Black peppercorns were also found inserted into the nostrils of Ramses II, who died in 1213 BCE.
One reason land was discovered was in pursuit of certain spices, and black pepper was one of the most desired and revered of all. It’s been known for millennia that a tiny bit is all it takes to lend a spicy warmth to foods, along with just a touch of lively flavor.
But as tasty as it may be in many a recipe, black pepper has pretty important nutritional aspects, too. Studies have shown that its unique combination of vitamins, minerals, and oils provides such benefits as increased nutrient absorbsion, improved heart rate and blood pressure, healthy cell growth and digestion, and anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, fever-reducing, and immune system-enhancing properties.