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Black Pepper Benefits: Why You Should Add it to Your Cooking
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Black Pepper Benefits: Why You Should Add it to Your Cooking

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Fun fact: black pepper is a fruit. It comes from the berry of the pepper berry plant, plucked just before it’s fully ripe, and then dried. Bet you would have guessed it’s a seed, right?

Black pepper is perhaps the most commonly used spice worldwide. Its versatile flavor adds a little zest or intense heat to any dish, depending on how much you use. The aroma of black pepper is distinctive, but nondescript -- the heat is the main event, and the subtle flavor pairs well with every regional cuisine. 

Black pepper is starting to turn heads as a legitimate herbal supplement, not as much by itself, but to enhance the effects of the supplements it accompanies. Here are a handful of benefits of black pepper, ways to use it, and what to look for when you buy black pepper for your food and for your seasoning cabinet.

Best Pepper for Food

Black pepper helps your body use turmeric and other key nutrients.

Turmeric is the golden child of the supplements world right now. Every wellness expert and influencer on the planet has posed next to a bottle of turmeric capsules or blended up a frothy golden milk with plenty of turmeric, touting its numerous benefits.

That’s why it may come as a surprise that turmeric on its own isn’t much more than bright yellow food coloring. Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has incredible antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory potential, when your body can absorb it. The thing is, you won’t get any benefit from curcumin if the only ingredient is turmeric or curcumin. When your cells can’t get to its magic, turmeric won’t do squat for you. 

That’s where black pepper comes in. Just a tiny amount of black pepper increases absorption of curcumin by 2000%

Curcumin combined with piperine prevented mouth tumor growth in living hamsters and lung cancer growth in mice whose tissues were treated to induce tumors. 

Black pepper also increases your body’s absorption of other compounds like: 

  • Beta-carotene. Beta-carotene benefits your skin, eyes, and brain, so you want to absorb as much of this as you can
  • Coenzyme Q-10. CoQ10 is a nutrient that is crucial for heart health and keeps you looking young and feeling energetic

Pharmaceuticals. The active compound in black pepper has also been shown to increase the bioavailability (absorption) and effectiveness of pharmaceuticals by slowing down their breakdown in the liver.

Black pepper burns fat.

The active compound in black pepper, piperine, has thermogenic qualities, which means it helps your body’s natural fat burning mechanisms, and it contributes to feeling satisfied after you eat. In a test tube study, scientists demonstrated that piperine turns off genes that multiply fat cells.

Eating Black Pepper

Piperine has also been shown to reverse  fatty liver and insulin resistance in mice fed a diet unnaturally high in fat, and in another study, it prevented weight gain in mice fed an excessively high fat and high sugar diet. 

It’s hard to say whether results would be the same in a living person, but there’s no harm in sprinkling black pepper on your food.

The benefits of black pepper.

A handful of rodent studies show that the compounds in black pepper could benefit your brain, too. Scientists were able to demonstrate that black pepper protects against cognitive problems in mice and in rats -- problems similar to the cognitive problems that you would see in Altzheimer’s disease. 

Researchers also showed that piperine blocks an enzyme that is associated with Parkinson’s disease, which could develop into part of a treatment plan for Parkinson’s. 

Black Pepper and Brain Health

Piperine may also affect mood. In stress-induced mice, piperine showed anti-depressant effects because of its potential to make new brain cells and make existing brain cells stronger. It increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which signals your brain to make new brain cells.

What to look for when buying black pepper.

  • Invest in a pepper mill and buy whole peppercorns. The key to keeping your spices fresh is limiting oxygen exposure so that it doesn’t oxidize and lose its potency and flavor. Fresh-cracked black pepper retains its qualities longer than ground pepper, which has probably been in a warehouse for months before you picked it up. Pepper berries have a protective casing that retains its qualities until you break them open, so a pepper mill is totally worth it. Plus, you’ll look like you know what you’re doing in the kitchen, even if you don’t.
  • Buy organic. You run into the same issues with pesticides and herbicides that you would with vegetables, so reach for organic peppercorns when you can. 
  • Black pepper is black. There are flavorful and colorful mixes that contain pink peppercorns or coriander seeds, which are completely different plants. These are perfectly fine and fun to use in the kitchen, but if you’re after the benefits of black pepper, stick with the black variety. 

Is it possible humans developed a taste for black pepper because it helps us squeeze every last drop of nutrition out of our food? We can’t be sure, but it would make sense. Whatever the case may be, black pepper tastes good and does good. Add a little extra zing to your dinner tonight. Your cells will thank you.   

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