What kitchen is complete without a black pepper grinder? Right there with salt, it’s a staple. Everyone from foodies to fast food junkies can’t live without a dash of this spice. And while not as pungent as our favorite hot peppers, it still adds a little dash of heat to a meal.
But really how much do you know about it? What is black pepper? Is it related to hot peppers? And most importantly is black pepper good for you? Let’s take a closer look at this spice that we eat nearly every day.
What is black pepper?
Black pepper is one of the most famous spices around; its history spans over 4,000 years. In fact, it was so popular and scarce in ancient times, that it was often used as financial collateral or even as currency. That’s a powerful spice.
It may surprise some, but black pepper actually comes from a fruit. Those peppercorns you purchase are the fruit of a flowering vine called Piper nigrum, native to India. They are picked while unripe, cooked in hot water to clean and rupture the fruit’s skin, and then dried.
When dried, peppercorns become dense and hard which is why a pepper grinder or pestle and mortar is necessary for breaking up the spice. Soon after it’s ground, black pepper begins to lose its fresh flavor, so for the best taste, it’s always recommended to grind peppercorns on the spot for meals.
What gives black pepper its heat?
Overall, the heat level of black pepper is incredibly mild compared to any chili on the Scoville scale, but it does have a level of pungency to it. That spiciness doesn’t come from capsaicin, though, the power behind hot peppers. Rather it’s a chemical compound named piperine that gives black pepper its heat.
Piperine is similar to capsaicin in that it’s an irritant to human beings. That’s what triggers the mild heat experience while eating black pepper. And like capsaicin as well, piperine has been linked to a whole lot of health benefits.
Is black pepper good for you?
The simple fact is that black pepper is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Seriously so much good comes from having black pepper in your diet:
- It helps improve your overall digestion. Black pepper stimulates your taste buds (irritant, remember?), and that stimulation sends signals to your stomach to increase the secretion of hydrochloric acid which is necessary for proper digestion of proteins.
- It helps prevent disease. Black pepper has antioxidant properties that help your body combat major diseases, including cancer according to some studies.
- Black pepper helps your body feel cooler. Like hot peppers, black pepper makes you sweat. In summer months, that sweat cools the body down.
- It helps you lose weight. The outside layer of the peppercorn contains properties that help break down fat cells.
- It helps break down congestion, making it a must for anyone with a chest cold.
- It even helps heal a cut. When placed on a minor wound, black pepper will help stop the bleeding. Plus, it has anti-bacterial properties that’ll help the wound from becoming infected.
- It helps clear your skin. Skin cleansers made from black pepper promote circulation and help remove dead skin cells.
With a ton of health benefits and the ability to make nearly any food more flavorful, black pepper is a surprising spice, no doubt. So next time you go reaching for that pepper grinder, feel good about giving it an extra twist. It’ll do your body good.