Black pepper, which comes from the Sanskrit word pippali, was once known as black gold. It has one of the longest histories as a sought-after spice, due to its ability to flavor foods, act as a preservative, and add heat to a dish. Black pepper offers a range of health benefits in addition to its flavor-enhancing properties.
Piper nigrum is native to the tropical forests of the Malabar Coast in southwest India, around the regions of Kerala, Goa, and Karnataka. This spice is the dried unripe fruit — the peppercorn — of the trailing vine plant, and it has different coloration depending on when it is harvested. Black pepper is the most common. To get black pepper, you pick almost-ripe peppercorns and leave them to dry until they turn black.
Black pepper was a cherished commodity in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and it reached even greater popularity during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Today, about 39 percent of all black pepper production comes from Vietnam. Indonesia produces about 15 percent, and India and Brazil each produce about 10 percent.
More than just a food flavor enhancer, black pepper offers health benefits thanks to its bioactive compounds, with piperine being the most important. Piperine is a natural alkaloid that gives black pepper its pungent taste. It is also the main component that gives black pepper its health-boosting qualities.
Piperine is considered a type of antioxidant that helps to lower the risk of chronic illnesses like atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, and neurological conditions.
This compound has a positive effect on nutrient bioavailability as well. When you add black pepper to your meal, you increase the amount of nutrients absorbed into your bloodstream.
Digestion and Intestinal Health
Black pepper helps to stimulate hydrochloric acid in your stomach so you can better digest and absorb the foods you eat. It has carminative properties too, which help to reduce discomfort and gas buildup in your intestines.
A strong immune system is important for helping you avoid illness, and black pepper can help here as well. Its active compounds have a role in boosting white blood cells, which your body uses to fight off invading bacteria and viruses.
This pungent spice contains a variety of active compounds, specifically oleoresins and alkaloids like piperine and chavicine. It also has antioxidants, flavonoids, essential oil, and other phenolic compounds that help protect your cells and boost digestive health.
Black pepper is also a source of the following vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Pantothenic Acid (B5)
- Vitamin B6
Black pepper is a good source of manganese, a mineral that can help with bone health, wound healing, and metabolism. In fact, one teaspoon of black pepper offers 13 percent of your daily recommended intake (DRI) of manganese and 3 percent of your DRI of vitamin K.
Nutrients per Serving
One teaspoon of black pepper contains:
- Calories: 6
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 1 gram
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Sugar: 0 gram
- Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
- Sodium: 0 milligrams
Things to Watch Out For
Black pepper, primarily through its active ingredient piperine, can interact with certain medications. It can have minor to moderate interactions that affect how your body absorbs prescription medications. Speak to your doctor to ensure you can enjoy the benefits of black pepper without affecting your medications.
How to Use Black Pepper
Whenever possible, grind your own pepper from peppercorns when preparing a meal. Eating freshly ground black pepper gives you more health benefits than eating pre-ground black pepper. Using the fresh peppercorn also ensures that you're eating pure black pepper, not pepper mixed with other additives.
Enjoy the health benefits of black pepper with one of these recipes:
- Make cheddar and black pepper biscuits.
- Cook up a batch of lemon pepper fish tacos.
- Sprinkle black pepper on roasted carrots.
- Make your own iced chai drink with black pepper, milk, ice cubes, and fresh chai tea.
Enjoy some crispy tofu with black pepper and a soy sauce glaze.