Along the spice trail to India, black pepper was like black gold. The ebony spice was so sought after in ancient times and in the Middle Ages that peppercorns could be substituted for currency and used to pay for everything from taxes to dowries. Black pepper’s ability to spice up bland foods and disguise lack of freshness made it indispensable in the time before refrigeration and before the global spice trade made exotic seasonings common. But black pepper’s benefits extend well beyond the culinary realm. As it turns out, in pepper’s case, what is pleasing to the palate is also good for the body.
Flavor That Stimulates
The characteristic spice of black pepper stimulates the taste buds, which signals the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid, a necessary component of healthy digestion. If not enough hydrochloric acid is produced when food passes to the stomach, heartburn and indigestion can ensue. In addition, if food sits in the stomach undigested for too long, it can become a fuel source for unfriendly bacteria in the intestines, leading to gas, diarrhea, or constipation. Black pepper’s pungent taste can therefore help pass food along and quell digestive discomfort.
An All-Purpose Spice
In many kitchens, where there is salt, there is pepper. While salt can cause water retention and other undesired effects when added to food, pepper is a diuretic. It encourages urination and sweating, which help rid the body of harmful toxins. As a result, evidence shows that black pepper may help keep the liver healthy. Pepper can also be handy in the kitchen for treating minor cuts. It can help stop bleeding, and its antibacterial and antioxidant properties help ward off germs and promote healing.
As many cartoons have dramatized, black pepper can stimulate sneezing. Piperine, black pepper’s active ingredient, is the culprit in such nose irritation. But it shouldn’t be sneezed at: this alkaloid may have anti-carcinogenic properties. Along with its cancer-fighting potential, piperine may enhance the bioavailability of some nutritional substances and drugs as well as have anticonvulsant properties. Though piperine’s sneezy effects may be unwelcome in the nose, they are a boon for breaking up congestion.
Black pepper may also be an effective fat-fighter. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that piperine interferes with the activity of genes that control the formation of new fat cells. These results are in accordance with another study done by the Central Food Technological Research Institute in India, which found that black pepper can help keep cholesterol in check. While warding off undesirable fat and cholesterol, black pepper is also a source of necessary nutrients, including manganese, vitamin K, iron, and dietary fiber.
Though today we can't plunk down a stockpile of peppercorns to pay our credit card bills, black pepper keeps our lives rich in other ways. A dash of freshly ground black pepper may add not only zing to our food but also pleasure to our post-meal experience and years to our lives.