Black pepper, peppercorn, or Piper nigrum, is a medicinal plant belonging to the family Piperaceae. It has been used for decades in treating cold and flu, and improving digestion. It is commonly referred to as the “king of spice” due to its popularity. Native to India, but now found and grown in tropical regions of the world, thanks to the Indian and Arab traders who help spread it.
It is important to note that peppercorns may vary in color, depending on the maturity of the fruit before harvest and method of processing it is subjected to. Black peppercorns are derived from the dried unripe fruit which are usually left to shrivel and turn black under the sun. The green peppercorns are the dried unripe fruits, and are plucked while the berries are still unripe and green. The white peppercorns however, are the matured and ripe berries of Piper nigrum.
Dried powdered pepper has been used since the ancient past both as a flavor and a medicine. Being the world’s most traded spice, it is the most common spice added to dishes all over the world. The spiciness of black peppercorn is due to the compound piperine, and not capsaicin, which is characteristic to the chilli pepper. You can read more about medicinal properties of pepper in the genus Capsicum here.
Nutritional value of Black pepper per 100 g (USDA)
- It provides energy of 255 kcal
- Contains 64.81 g of carbohydrates
- Proteins of 10.95 g
- Dietary fiber of 26.5 g, which is more than 60% of the recommended daily intake
- Total fat of 3.26 g
- No cholesterol
- In terms of vitamins, it contains vitamin K (163.7 mcg), vitamin E(4.56 mg), vitamin C (21 mg), thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, niacin, folic acid, and choline.
- Minerals contained are sodium (44 mg), potassium (1259 mg), calcium (437 mg), copper (1.127 mg), iron (28.86 mg), magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.
The black pepper provides carbohydrates in significant amounts, with 100 g providing up to 49% of recommended dietary allowance. Fiber is also contained in rich amounts. It is rich in vitamin K, E, and C. Minerals in rich amounts are manganese, magnesium, iron, calcium, and copper.
Black pepper medicinal uses
This wonder spice contains a collection of chemical compounds that have been documented to have medicinal properties, thus, able to prevent diseases and improve the health. Piperine, an essential oil which gives pepper its spicy character, is an amine alkaloid known to have many health benefits. Other active components include numerous terpenes such as pinene, sibinene, terpenene, limonene, and some others, which all combine to give pepper its characteristic aromatic property.
The rich mineral and vitamin collection of black pepper cannot be over emphasized. Potassium which is present in rich amounts helps regulate the blood pressure, and control heart rate. Vitamin such as vitamin C which is also found in rich amounts can help prevent infections and fight off disease causing organisms. Vitamin K is involved in blood clotting, and also associated with improved blood circulation through the inhibition of arterial calcification and stiffening. Many recent studies have considered vitamin K as one of the several measures that can be taken to improve bone health. This vitamin, is present in rich amounts, with a 100 g providing 136% of recommended dietary allowance.
Below are some medicinal applications of black pepper:
- Improves digestion
- Cold and Flu
- Increases appetite
- Facilitates weight loss
- Fights cancer
- Prevents diabetes
Dried fruits of Piper nigrum are commonly used to treat gastrointestinal disorders, and to ascertain that, a research was carried out in 2010 (1) which validated the pharmacological basis of black pepper and piperine in the treatment of gastrointestinal conditions. It is believed that the piperine component of this wonderful spice aids in the production of gastric acid, which bathes food bolus, breaks it down, and makes it ready for assimilation.
Cold and Flu
In traditional ayurvedic practices, black pepper along with honey is used to approach respiratory congestion. It can used to clear up a stuffy nose and loosen the phlegm. Many online publications suggest various home remedies to fight respiratory congestion. A popular tradition is the steam inhalation carried out by mixing some black pepper and eucalyptus oil in hot water and then inhaling the resultant gaseous evaporated mixture. Using this great spice against respiratory infections no doubt has scientific backups, with the expectorant and antiseptic properties of black peppercorn enough to get you going.
If you are one of those just recovering from a debilitating disease or going through a lot of stress, it is expected that you have a poor appetite. Thanks to the king of spices, as you can make use of this medicinal plant to stimulate your appetite. There are many reliable ayurvedic remedy of taking peppercorn to stimulate appetite. An online post (2) suggest taking a mixture of one-half teaspoon of black pepper and one tablespoon of jaggery powder (gur). It further suggested that the remedy should be continued until noticeable improvements are seen.
Facilitates Weight loss
If you are one of those willing to shed off some weight, then you can give black pepper a shot. A research carried out (3) revealed how piperine in peppercorn is involved in the breakdown of fat cells. Another interesting study (4) was carried out, although in rats, to prove the effect of piperine in weight loss. The rats were fed with high-fat diets to make them develop obesity. They were then treated with piperine and sibutramine for 3 weeks. The results not only showed a reduction in their body weight, but also a significant reduction in their triglyceride, total cholesterol, LDL and VLDL (bad cholesterol), and fat mass level, while the level of HDL cholesterol (beneficial cholesterol) in their body increased. Oh and I forgot to mention that there was no change in food intake through out the experiment.
There are many valid and up-to-date scientific publications to backup this claim. Most researches have found the piperine content of black pepper to increase absorption of nutrients. This is the reason why the consumption of black pepper and turmeric has been recommended by many as a great way to fight many types of cancers. The piperine content helps improve the absorption of curcumin, the main component of turmeric which helps fight cancerous growths. Research carried out at the university of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center revealed how curcumin and piperine target stem cells, which comprise the small number of cells in a tumor that fuel the growth of malignancies.
Moreover, black peppercorns are full of antioxidants, substances which prevent the formation of cancer cells by fighting free radicals in the body.
Diabetes must be avoided at all cost, as it is one of the most rampant and deadly diseases of the 21st century. Recently, there have been some scientific evidences to prove the action of black pepper against diabetes. A research conducted in 2016 (5) evaluated the action of piperine, the chief alkaloid in black pepper, in lowering blood glucose level. Piperine was administered along with metformin to Alloxan Induced Diabetic Mice for 28 days. Results showed significant reduction in blood glucose level. The whole experiment was actually done to test the bio-enhancing property of piperine, which of course performed excellently to enhance the effect of metformin in lowering blood glucose level.
Other uses of black pepper include reducing blood pressure, fighting bacteria, skin care, treating teeth and gums problems, and also treating ulcers. However, some of these indications lack enough scientific evidence to validate the action of this wonderful spice against most of these conditions, with most uses entirely based on the traditional ayurvediv approach.