Black magic to pep(per) up your health!

October 14, 2009

Black pepper is useful for a lot more than just giving company to the salt shaker on the table. It is the simplest way to boost your overall health.

Black pepper comes from a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae. The fruit of this vine, called a peppercorn, is dried and ground to obtain black pepper as we know it. Dried black pepper is one of the most common ingredients in European cooking. It is also found extensively in South India.

In ancient times, black pepper was considered a prized possession. It was held in such high regard that it was not only used in food, but also as a form of currency. Today black pepper is famous for both, its rich flavour and its benefits as a medicine.

The spicy nature and pungency of the pepper comes from a chemical known as piperine. Piperine is responsible for most of the medicinal properties of black pepper. The chemical is approximately 98% pure when derived from natural sources but for medical or chemical use it is produced in the laboratory. It is sold in the form of powder or tablets. Since it is piperine that gives black pepper its kick, the more intense the flavor and heat, the greater the level of piperine.

Positive effects on health
Black pepper and piperine are used to treat a variety of health disorders all over the world. Mexicans use it as a cure for stomach ailments, malaria and inflammation. In Morocco it is used to treat weight loss and leukemia. The Indonesians believe it can relieve headache and fever and cure epilepsy. It is also used as an antidote for snake venom.

Recent research has discovered that in addition to enhancing the flavour of food (and alcohol too), black pepper can alleviate pain, lessen inflammation, and combat arthritis. It can also improve digestion, fight against stomach ulcers and relieve asthma. In addition, black pepper is a mood enhancer.

How black pepper works
These discoveries follow from other studies which show that black pepper can fight complications from diabetes, work as a powerful antioxidant and inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation. There is evidence that black pepper can substantially increase the bioavailability of nutrients obtained from food and supplements such as beta carotene, curcumin, selenium, pyroxidine (B6), glucose, and amino acids. The piperine in black pepper is responsible for generating energy in cells through a process called thermogenesis. Black pepper aids the production of serotonin, and reduces the sensation of pain.

How to get the best from black pepper
The benefits of piperine as best derived from buying whole peppercorns and grinding them in a mill just before the pepper is to be consumed. Pre-ground pepper may have lost most of its piperine. Cooking black pepper is not the best idea since heat causes it to lose its flavour, aroma and vitamin C. If you intend to store it for a while, keep the pepper in a tightly sealed glass container, preferably in a cool, dark and dry area. Whole peppercorns can be stocked up in this manner for extended periods of time. Freezing is another way to preserve the peppercorns that may sometimes make the flavour more pronounced, which indicates an increase in the level of piperine.

Black pepper is a welcome addition to most cooked foods, soups and salad dressings. So if you are in need of an easy, pocket-friendly health plan, eating black pepper is the way to go!

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