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More than Just a Spice: Is Black Pepper Good For You?

The next time you decide to push black pepper to the darkest corner of your shelf, think again. Often referred to as 'The King of Spices', black pepper has been a staple ingredient in numerous cuisines for thousands of years.

It belongs to the Piperaceae family and is processed in various ways to yield various forms of pepper. The cooked and dried unripe fruit is called black pepper, the dried and unripe fruit is green pepper, and the seeds of the ripened fruit of the plant are white pepper. 

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While pepper originated in South India, it is presently grown in other tropical countries like Vietnam, Brazil, and Indonesia. Pepper played a vital role in history and is hence regarded as an important spice. In ancient Greece, it was once used as currency. 

In addition to adding flavour, and being used for garnishing, pepper might offer a lot of health benefits too. In this article, we take a look at the health benefits, side effects, and culinary uses of pepper.

Health Benefits of Pepper

Compounds in black pepper, primarily the active ingredient piperine may prevent cell damage, enhance nutrient absorption, and relieve digestive issues.

  • Might Prevent Cancer
  • The piperine present in black pepper might protect you against cancer and its potency increases twice as much when paired with turmeric. The humble spice also contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C, carotenes, flavonoids, and other antioxidants that remove free radicals and prevent diseases. The best way to harness pepper's maximum benefits is to eat freshly ground and not cook it with food.

  • May Stimulate Digestion
  • The piperine also eases digestion and stimulates the secretion of hydrochloric acid that helps in better digestion of proteins. So, sprinkling a bit of pepper in food will help boost the digestion process. 

  • Said to Enable Weight Loss
  • Black pepper is truly a magical spice as it does a great job of extracting nutrients from food. Additionally, its outermost layer is lined with phytonutrients that break down fat cells and increase metabolism. Have you ever noticed how you start sweating after eating freshly ground black pepper? 

    That’s the pepper helping your body get rid of excess water and toxins. However, don’t go overboard with pepper consumption. Just a pinch with your meal is better. 

  • Helps Relieve Cold and Cough
  • Being antibacterial in nature, pepper helps relieve cold and cough and alleviate chest congestion that’s often the result of pollution, flu, or a viral infection. A few ways to consume black pepper in this scenario include mixing freshly crushed pepper with a teaspoon of honey, or adding it to hot water with eucalyptus oil and taking steam. 

  • Improves Skin
  • Crushed pepper is believed to be one of the best natural exfoliators. But, don’t use it directly on your skin. Instead, mix it with a bit of honey, curd, or fresh cream. Black pepper also improves blood circulation which, in turn, provides your skin cells with more oxygen. Adding the spice to food will help you take care of those unwarranted skin wrinkles. 

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    Potential Side Effects of Pepper

    Nearly all forms of pepper are considered safe for human consumptions in limited amounts. Supplements containing 5-20 mg of piperine per dose are safe though research in this area is inadequate. 

    Nevertheless, ingesting substantial amounts of black pepper or high-dose supplements will result in adverse side effects including burning sensations in the stomach or throat. Additionally, black pepper might also promote the absorption of some drugs like antihistamines that relieve allergy symptoms. While this can be considered an advantage for medications that are poorly absorbed, it can be dangerous for the high absorption of others.

    Hence, before deciding to take piperine supplements, consult with your healthcare provider about potential drug interactions.

    Culinary Uses of Pepper

    There are numerous ways to incorporate pepper into your diet. Both ground black pepper and whole black peppercorns can easily be found in almost every grocery stores, supermarkets, and online portals.  

    Black pepper can be used to add flavour to meat, fish, vegetables, soups, pasta, stir-fries, salad dressings, and more. Sprinkling a tad bit of ground black pepper to scrambled eggs, fruits, avocado toast, and dipping sauces make it tasty and gives it a spicy kick.

    When it comes to South Indian cuisine, black whole peppercorns are added to Pongal, and Rasam to give them a delicious fieriness. Rasam with black peppercorns is also considered a cure to cold and blocked nasal passages. 

    Pepper should be stored in an airtight container in a cool and dry place. It is always better to buy whole peppercorns and crush it at home as it will help the spice retain its flavour for longer. When stored well the black pepper will last for around two to three years. 

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