Black Pepper: A True Superfood
Spices have been revered and traded for thousands of years. These seeds, roots and barks bring enjoyment and depth to meals through their pungent, spicy, and flavor-enhancing properties. Pepper was one of the first spices ever traded. It’s native to Kerala, India where the coastal port of Muziris was established for the spice trade dating back as early as 3000 BC (1).
Pepper comes in several different colors which provide different flavors. Black peppercorns are picked before maturity and turn dark once dried. They have a nice spice to them and can be used for most any dish. Please note that they will dye anything light-colored so I wouldn’t cook a light colored meat, like chicken, next to whole black peppercorns or you’ll end up with a spotted chicken breast. Green peppercorns are the raw dried fruit also picked before maturity. They have a more subtle earthy flavor and go well in steak sauces. White peppercorns are simply the inside of the black pepper. This smoky flavor pairs well with potato soup or other white sauces. Black, white and green are from the same plant.
When it comes to adding flavor to meals, black pepper is second to only salt, which is why it’s found on most tables around the world. It is the most widely used spice, but did you know that black pepper has many more benefits than its flavor? If not, I encourage you to read on to learn why pepper should be added to many of your dishes.
THE MANY BENEFITS OF BLACK PEPPER
Black pepper is mostly known for its antioxidant, antimicrobial and gastro-protective properties but it doesn’t stop there. Its active ingredient is piperine which was the world’s first bioavailability enhancer. This is the key to why pepper is such a powerhouse, and why I’ve chosen to inform you on the topic.
In Ayurveda (science of life) black pepper is known to be a ‘bioavailability enhancer’ since it assists in making the active compounds of an herbal extract available for the body to use.
“‘Bioavailability enhancers’ are drug facilitators, they are the molecules which by themselves do not show typical drug activity but when used in combination they enhance the activity of drug molecule in several ways including increasing bioavailability of the drug across the membrane, potentiating the drug molecule by conformational interaction, acting as receptors for drug molecule and making target cells more receptive to drugs.”
- US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
I know that’s a mouthful so let me break it down for you. Many herbal drugs and extracts, due to their poor lipid solubility (fat soluble) or improper molecular size, cannot be absorbed by the body. We simply take them in, then pee them out. Meaning, even though they’ve been proven to be beneficial, they need some “enhancer” to assist in the delivery and use for the body.
Piperine happens to be one of the most powerful enhancers that can increase the bioavailability of different plant properties.
ONE OF THE MOST NOTABLE ENHANCEMENTS IS THAT OF CURCUMIN, THE MAIN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY AGENT IN TURMERIC, WHICH INCREASES IT’S BIOAVAILABILITY BY 2000% WHEN TAKEN WITH PIPERINE (BLACK PEPPER) (2)! LEARN MORE ABOUT TURMERIC ON A POST I DID HERE.
If you want to dive into and fully understand how bioenhancers work, please check out the research article by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health website found here. I totally geeked out on it and will do a more in-depth post sometime soon.
BENEFITS OF BLACK PEPPER
Increases bioavailability of many supplements and drugs by inhibiting the detox enzymes that break down the drug and increasing absorption in the gut. This makes a small dose go a long way.
Can aid in cognitive function
Helps the absorption of nutrients by making them easier to pass through the gut lining.
Anti-inflammatory properties can help with arthritis and swollen joints.
Acts as an antioxidant to aid in fighting free radicals in the body.
Fights infection with anti-bacterial qualities.
Increasing serotonin levels to help with depression.
Works as a fiber to slough off arterial buildup.
Aids in combatting cancer by preventing the spread of tumor cells and decreasing tumor growth (breast, prostate and colon cancers).
Breaks down phlegm and mucus to help with colds and coughs.
The outer layer of the seed helps break down fat cells to aid in weight loss.
Increases hydrochloric acid secretion to aid in digestion and the breakdown of proteins in the stomach.
Prevents intestinal gas.
Aids in detoxification to promote sweating and urination.
TIPS & TRICKS
Buy whole peppercorns and grind them fresh at home. Ground pepper only retains it’s freshness for three months but the whole peppercorn stays fresh indefinitely.
It’s clear why black pepper has been revered and used as a trading spice for millennia. The piperine found in black pepper was the first widely known ‘bioavailability enhancer’ having numerous benefits. I recommend making fresh ground peppercorns a staple in most dishes in order to reap these benefits.