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Spice It Up! Boosting Your Health with Spices and Herbs (Part 5)
November 16, 2009
Often taken for granted, black pepper (Piper nigrum) is probably one of the most common seasonings used on food and in cooking. It is a pungent spice that comes from the pepper plant, a tropical vine that develops berries known as peppercorns. These peppercorns can be purchased either preground or whole for use in a pepper grinder.
There are actually three types of peppercorns: black, white, and green. They all come from the same plant, but they vary in color based on their ripeness and how they’re processed. For example, black peppercorns are picked when they’re just about ripe. They’re about to turn red when they’re picked, but turn black when they dry out. Green peppercorns, often used in Asian cuisine, are unripe when picked. White peppercorns are ripe and have the outer shell removed. White pepper is often used in food or dishes that are white in color.
Pepper has been a prized spice since ancient Greek and Roman times, where it was used as currency and as an offering to the gods. And not only was it used as a seasoning in food, but it also helped to disguise the taste of rotten meat! Pepper is credited with prompting the Europeans to find a route to India, where the spice was grown, thereby leading to the colonization of India and the exploration of other lands, including America. Today, pepper is grown in various countries, including Vietnam, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.
Gas buster. Another benefit of eating black pepper is that it can help relieve intestinal gas, probably by stimulating the release of hydrochloric acid. (This is good to know with the holidays coming up!).
Antioxidant. Black pepper is an antioxidant powerhouse, containing types of antioxidants called polyphenols. Antioxidants likely help to protect against heart disease, some types of cancer, and Type 2 diabetes. It’s thought that black pepper may reduce the harmful effects of a diet high in saturated fat, and that its antioxidants help support other antioxidants in the body that work to keep levels of cholesterol and blood fats in check.
Cancer fighter. A phytochemical (chemical derived from a plant source) called piperine, found in black pepper, may block harmful substances in the body, preventing tumor cells from growing. In addition, black pepper enhances the anticancer effects of other spices in foods.
Nutrient booster. Piperine helps the body absorb and distribute nutrients throughout the body.
Cold fighter. Perhaps more of a folk remedy, it’s thought that black pepper can ease congestion and treat coughs. Sprinkle some into a cup of hot tea the next time a cold or flu hits you.
How to Use Black Pepper
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