Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spices worldwide. It is made by grinding peppercorns, which are dried berries from the vine Piper nigrum. It has a sharp and mildly spicy flavor that goes well with many dishes.
But black pepper is called the “king of spices”. It was used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years due to its high concentration of potent, beneficial plant compounds.
Free radicals are molecules that can damage your cells They are created naturally, such as when you exercise and digest food. However, excessive free radicals can be formed with exposure to things like pollution, cigarette smoke, and sun rays. Excess free radical damage may lead to major health problems.
Black pepper is rich in a plant compound called piperine, which studies have found to have potent antioxidant properties. Ground black pepper and piperine supplements may reduce free radical damage.In animal studies, those fed a high-fat diet plus either black pepper or a concentrated black pepper extract had significantly fewer markers of free radical damage in their cells after 10 weeks compared to rats fed a high-fat diet alone.
Chronic inflammation may be an underlying factor in many conditions, such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Laboratory studies suggest that piperine fights inflammation. In studies with animals with arthritis, treatment with piperine resulted in less joint swelling and fewer blood markers of inflammation. Piperine also suppressed inflammation in airways caused by asthma and seasonal allergies.
Piperine has been shown to improve brain function in animal studies. In particular, it has demonstrated benefits for symptoms related to degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In animals with Alzheimer’s disease, piperine improved memory, as the distribution of piperine enabled the animals to repeatedly run a maze more efficiently than those not given the compound.
Piperine extract decreases the formation of amyloid plaques, which are dense clumps of damaging protein fragments in the brain that have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies suggest that piperine may help improve blood sugar metabolism. In one study, rats fed a black pepper extract had a smaller spike in blood sugar levels after consuming glucose compared to rats in the control group.
Additionally, 86 overweight people taking a supplement containing piperine and other compounds for 8 weeks experienced significant improvements in insulin sensitivity, which measures how well the hormone insulin removes glucose from the bloodstream.
Black pepper extract has been studied in animals for its potential to reduce cholesterol levels. In one 42-day study, rats fed a high-fat diet and a black pepper extract had decreased blood cholesterol levels. The same effects were not seen in the control group.
Back pepper and piperine are believed to boost the absorption of dietary supplements that have potential cholesterol-lowering effects like turmeric and red yeast rice. Black pepper may increase the absorption of the active component of turmeric, curcumin, by up to 2,000%.
Researchers hypothesize that the active compound in black pepper, piperine, may have cancer-fighting properties. Though no human trials have been performed, researchers a discovering that pipeline may have cancer fighting properties. Test-tube studies found that piperine slowed the replication of breast, prostate, and colon cancer cells and induced cancer cell death.
Another test-tube study screened 55 compounds from spices and observed that piperine from black pepper was the most effective at enhancing the efficacy of traditional treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive cancer type. Piperine has shown promising effects in laboratory studies for reversing multidrug resistance in cancer cells which is an issue that interferes with the efficacy of chemotherapy treatment.
Black pepper may benefit health in many other ways according to preliminary research:
- Boosts absorption of nutrients. Black pepper may increase the absorption of essential nutrients like calcium and selenium, as well some beneficial plant compounds, such as those found in green tea and turmeric.
- May promote gut health. The makeup of your gut bacteria has been linked to immune function, mood, chronic diseases, and more. Preliminary research suggests that black pepper may increase the good bacteria in your gut.
- May offer pain relief. Though it has yet to be studied in humans, studies in rodents suggest that the piperine in black pepper may be a natural pain reliever.
- May reduce appetite. In a small study, 16 adults reported reduced appetite after drinking a black-pepper-based beverage compared to flavored water. However, other studies did not show the same effects.
How to Buy
Pepper is available ground, coarsely-ground, cracked and as whole peppercorns. The whole peppercorns are the best choice as they hold their freshness, flavor, and essential oils longer. Ground pepper deteriorates with time and can take on a bitter flavor. Freshly ground pepper is the best option for full flavor benefit.
How to Store
- Store whole peppercorns in a sealed container in a cool, dry place up to one year. Some sources claim that properly stored, sealed peppercorns can still be viable for up to three years.
- Ground pepper begins to lose flavor after about four months, so if you do not use a lot of pepper, avoid those huge cans.
- Brined peppercorns need to be refrigerated after opening and used within a month.
- Water-packed peppercorns have the shortest shelf life after opening—they should be refrigerated and used within one week.
How to Cook
Black pepper pairs well with other seasonings, including turmeric, cardamom, cumin, garlic, and lemon zest.