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Black pepper or kali mirch is one of the most popular spice all over the world. It gives a pungent kick to the foods which is loved and savoured by many. Dried and ground pepper is one amongst the foremost common spices in European cooking. From entree to the main course to desserts, it finds a way into every recipe. It might interest you to know that the pungency of black pepper is because of the chemical piperine, which is known to be very beneficial to the gastrointestinal system. Apart from being an excellent stomachic (improves digestion), it is also a potent antioxidant. So, it not only helps you digest and absorb your food better, but it also helps you deal with the oxidative stress generated by the body's metabolism. The culinary and healing benefits of black pepper have aptly earned it the title of the “King of Spices”.

The commercially used black pepper is the dried form of mature berries of the tropical, perennial climb plant Piper Nigrum L., which belongs to the Piperaceae family. Black pepper is primarily grown in the South Western region of India, in the state of Kerala and some parts of Mysore, Tamil Nadu, and Goa. Interestingly, the whole pepper cultivating region was once called Malabar, a name which is currently solely referred to as Kerala. The Malabar coast was known for the cultivation and import-export of pepper since ancient times. From here pepper was exported to Indonesia, Malaysia and later it spread to all the pepper growing countries.

Black pepper is highly prized in the international market for its distinct flavour and healing properties. Ground black peppercorn, generally noted as "pepper", can also be found at nearly every dining table around the globe, quite often found placed alongside table salt in the restaurants too.

Some basic facts about Black Pepper:

  • Scientific Name: Piper nigrum
  • Family: Piperaceae
  • Common Name: Black Pepper
  • Common Hindi and Sanskrit name: काली मिर्च (Kali Mirch)
  • Native Region and Geographical Distribution: Black pepper mainly belongs to South India. During the Roman era, pepper was imported into the Red Sea area from ports in India and it was native to eastern tropical regions. Peppers are considered as one of the oldest items in the global spice trade. Peppers are cultivated in South India, and in China; it is also cultivated in East and West Indies, Malay Peninsula, Malay Archipelago, Siam, Malabar, Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia etc.
  • Fun facts: The United States is currently importing the highest quantity of Pepper, around 671 million dollars of Pepper in the year 2009. That’s nearly 18% of the world’s Pepper.
    Black Pepper represents about 50% of a particular restaurant’s spice usage.
    During the Middle Ages, Peppercorns were priced more than silver in terms of weight.
  1. Black, white, green, pink and red peppercorns
  2. Black pepper nutrition facts
  3. Black pepper health benefits
  4. Buying and storing black pepper
  5. Black pepper side effects
  6. Takeaway

The fruit, referred to as a peppercorn once dried, is just 5 millimetres in diameter and black in  colour. However, a variety of peppercorns are available in the supermarket aisle. There are white peppercorns, green and even a pink variety! Irrespective of their colour black, white, red or green all are widely used in a wide range of culinary delicacies. 

But what exactly is the difference between them? Let's have a look.

Green peppercorn is a little immature with herbaceous kind of fragrance and on being fully mature, they turn into a shade of bright red. However, we don't usually see the red peppercorns as a major portion of it is dried to make black peppercorns. The white peppercorns are actually black pepper with its outer coat taken off.

The pungency of pepper is the strongest in the white pepper and the weakest in green pepper, whereas black and green peppercorns are more fragrant than the white ones. 

Red peppercorns combine a flavour of a sugary-sweet taste along with the mature pungency and flavour of black pepper.

Green pepper is most commonly used as a flavouring agent in various sauces and vinegar while the white pepper is used more commonly in Chinese cuisine. 

Pink peppercorns aren't pepper at all. Instead, they are a type of tropical fruit with a sweet and peppery flavour to it.

Black Pepper is low in saturated fats as well as cholesterol and sodium. It is also a very good source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and potassium, and also rich in dietary fibre, vitamin K, iron, copper, and manganese.
As per the USDA Nutrient Database, 100 g of black pepper contains the following nutrients:

Nutrient Value per 100 g
Water 12.46g
Energy 251 kcal
Proteins 10.39 g
Fats 3.26 g
Carbohydrates 63.95 g
Fibres 25.3 g
Sugars 0.64 g
Minerals  
Calcium 443 mg
Iron 9.71 mg
Magnesium 171 mg
Phosphorus 158 mg
Potassium 1329 mg
Sodium 20 mg
Zinc 1.19 mg
Vitamins  
Vitamin B1 0.108 mg
Vitamin B2 0.18 mg
Vitamin B3 1.143 mg
Vitamin B6 0.291mg
Vitamin A 27 g
Vitamin B9 17 µg
Vitamin E 1.04 mg
Vitamin K 163.7 µg
Fats/Fatty acids  
Saturated 1.392 g
Monounsaturated 0.739 g
Polyunsaturated 0.998 g
  • For health: Black pepper is an excellent immunomodulator and helps to improve both humoral and cell-mediated immunity. It also has antimicrobial effects against a range of microorganisms, which helps in preventing infections and illness. It also functions as a natural antioxidant and thereby reduces the risk of several chronic diseases.
  • For digestion: Black pepper aids in better digestion of food as it caters to reduce the transit time and encourages the secretion of gastric juices in the stomach.
  • For cholesterol: The intake of black pepper assists the metabolism of cholesterol in the body and it thus helps to raise the levels of HDL (or good cholesterol) while at the same time reduces LDL (or bad cholesterol).
  • For the reduction of fever: Black pepper is believed to have antipyretic and analgesic actions and is also claimed to reduce the periodicity of malaria fever.
  • For arthritis: Black pepper is an anti-inflammatory agent and helps to reduce the episodes of pain and swelling in those affected while also preventing the degradation of bony tissue in them.
  • For cancer prevention: As black pepper helps to control the growth of proinflammatory cytokines released by the growth of cancerous cells, it may have a role in the prevention of cancer.
  1. Black pepper for better immunity
  2. Black pepper benefits for stomach
  3. Black pepper lowers cholesterol levels
  4. Black pepper as an antipyretic
  5. Black pepper for arthritis
  6. Black pepper antimicrobial properties
  7. Black pepper prevents cancer
  8. Black pepper as a natural antioxidant

Black pepper for better immunity

In vitro studies suggest that black pepper is an excellent immunomodulator (effects immune system). Black pepper stimulate the production of macrophages (a type of white blood cell) in the body, which leads to an improved immune response.

According to pre-clinical studies, regular consumption of black pepper has a positive impact on the humoral and cellular arm of immunity. 

Black pepper benefits for stomach

Black pepper contains an important aromatic compound, known as piperine. It has been established that piperine increases penetration of various nutrients and minerals like selenium, vitamin B, carotene and curcumin through the digestive tract.

Black pepper consumption has many other benefits for the gastrointestinal tract.

  • It improves the process of digestion and encourages the secretion of digestive juices in the stomach.
  • It stimulates the release of digestive enzymes from the pancreas and liver, which results in better digestion of food in intestines.
  • It can also reduce the transit time (time taken by food too pass through the digestive tract) of food.

Black pepper lowers cholesterol levels

In vivo studies suggest the hypolipidemic (lowers cholesterol) benefits of black pepper. It has been reported that regular consumption of black pepper leads to an increased level of high-density lipoproteins (good fats) while reducing the low-density and very low-density lipoproteins.

Furthermore, it has been suggested that black pepper can interfere with the cholesterol metabolism in the body thereby, leading to significantly low cholesterol levels.

(Read more: High cholesterol symptoms)

Black pepper as an antipyretic

Ayurvedic, Yunani, Siddha and folk medicines in India have been using pepper and pepper comprising preparations for treating intermittent fever, neuritis, cold, pains associated ailments of the throat. In addition, pepper is used as an anti-periodic (stops the relapse of) in malarial fever and is claimed to have analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (reduces fever) properties. Experiments conducted on animal models suggest that piperine is responsible for the strong antipyretic effects of black pepper.

Black pepper for arthritis

Arthritis is a disease marked by bone degradation and an inflammation in joints like knees, wrists, and fingers. It is most commonly treated with the supplementation of anti-inflammatory drugs, which help reduce the symptoms of redness, pain, and swelling in the body. Black pepper is known to be an excellent anti-inflammatory agent. Studies suggest that black pepper interferes with the production of some inflammatory compounds like IL-6 and PGE2 leading to a marked reduction in inflammation symptoms.

Additionally, black pepper has also been reported to inhibit the function of some enzymes (collagenases) which are responsible for the degradation of bone tissue in arthritic patients. 

Black pepper antimicrobial properties

Black pepper has known to be used as in antiseptic since time immemorial. Studies show that antiseptics kill microbes by changing the structure and function of cellular substances through the destruction of the cell wall and membrane. Experiments were conducted to prove these properties of black pepper. Research demonstrated that phenolic compounds in fresh pepper can inhibit the growth of infectious bacteria like Salmonella typhimurium, Bacillus, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus. This shows that black pepper may have some antimicrobial properties and can inhibit food spoilage and food pathogenic bacteria.

Black pepper prevents cancer

Black pepper increases the bioavailability of other anti-tumor spices and food sources, thereby drastically increasing their potency and effectiveness against cancer.

Black pepper also fights against cancer development directly. Its principal phytochemical is piperine, which inhibits some of the proinflammatory cytokines that are generated by growth cells. This cytokine inhibition hinders the communication between cancer cells, reducing the chances of growth of such cells.

Pepper controls chemical carcinogenesis (cancer developed by chemicals) by encouraging the action of certain enzymes in the body which help in flushing out these harmful chemicals with urine.

The antioxidant characteristics of piperine and linked unsaturated amides also play a deterrent role in carcinogenesis.

Black pepper as a natural antioxidant

Antioxidant compounds present in food commodities play vital roles as health-guarding factors. They scavenge the free radicals present in the body and reduce oxidative stress which is very important for the optimum functioning of all the vital body organs. Black pepper is a storehouse of active antioxidants. Black pepper sustains and improves the levels and effectivity of these vital compounds. It has several strong antioxidants and is one of the foremost vital spices for preventing and diminishing oxidative stress. Also, many of the antioxidant present in black pepper work indirectly by improving the action of some natural antioxidants of the body.

(Read more: Antioxidant-rich foods)

Black Peppercorns are easily available all year round in the market. It is advisable to buy whole peppercorns instead of pepper powder because the powder may be adulterated. The peppercorns are wholesome, heavy, round and compact.

Peppercorns can be conveniently stored at room temperature for many years and can be ground with the help of hand mill as and when required. It can also be kept in the refrigerator for as long as a month or so. Crushed pepper should be stored in airtight containers inside the refrigerator.

  • Gastrointestinal problems
    Having an excessive amount of pepper can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort. In a study, effects on over-consumption of black and red pepper were observed and it was found that it caused significant increases in parietal secretion, pepsin secretion, and potassium loss. It led to severe gastric complications. It's suggested to stay away from pepper just in case you have got a really hypersensitive stomach.
  • Allergic reactions
    Ingesting pepper in excess has been found to evoke hypersensitivity or allergy-like symptoms in pregnant ladies. If you are a very sensitive person, the most effective choice would be to avoid pepper as per your physical condition.
  • Respiratory Problems
    Overuse of black pepper may lead to respiratory problems. Black peppers are associated with breathing problems and over utilisation can many times lead to disturbance in the throat, asthma and other kinds of respiratory problems. In a case study of a 17-month boy, it was found that he developed urticaria, conjunctivitis, facial swelling, and severe cough after immediate intake of a dish containing black and cayenne pepper.
  • Avoid While Breastfeeding
    Black pepper is advised to be avoided by pregnant women and also more particularly when you're breastfeeding. Consuming black pepper will ultimately carry the hot spice to your breast milk and may change the taste of the milk and in turn, may cause digestive issues for the baby.
  • Leads To Skin Dryness
    It is believed that ingesting an excessive amount of black pepper may cause a dry and flaky skin. If you have a dry skin, having an excessive amount of black pepper or black pepper infused food should be avoided. It may additionally worsen the condition with an itchy, rough and sensitive skin.

Adding a pinch of black pepper to almost every recipe is imaginable. It was once used as a currency and was presented to the gods as a sacred offering. It is blessed to be to one of the most popular spices available throughout the year. Piperine, the key pungent principle component of pepper, is an organic compound with a remarkably broad spectrum of therapeutic activities. It's also known to boost the bioavailability of nutritional and biology compounds.. There are several health benefits of black pepper which makes it more than just a spice. The next time you downgrade black pepper to the back of your shelf, please think twice. The simple spice has much more benefits than you'd imagine.

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References

  1. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 02030, Spices, pepper, black. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
  2. Derosa G, Maffioli P, Sahebkar A. Piperine and Its Role in Chronic Diseases. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2016;928:173-184. PMID: 27671817
  3. Butt MS, et al. Black pepper and health claims: a comprehensive treatise. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013.
  4. Lan Zou et al. Antibacterial mechanism and activities of black pepper chloroform extract. J Food Sci Technol. 2015 Dec; 52(12): 8196–8203. PMID: 26604394
  5. Myers BM, et al. Effect of red pepper and black pepper on the stomach. Am J Gastroenterol. 1987.
  6. Gimenez L, et al. Severe pepper allergy in a young child. WMJ. 2011.