Originating in India and now grown in South-East Asia, Brazil and Africa, black pepper – or piper nigrum – is also known as the King of Spices and has a long history of medicinal use. More recently, numerous studies have proven and revealed its numerous therapeutic benefits.
As the world’s most traded spice, one of black pepper’s main, and perhaps most interesting, properties is that it potentiates the assimilation of nutrients; vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are better absorbed when taken with black pepper. It is the compound piperine, an alkaloid compound present in black pepper that helps to improve absorption by increasing bioavailability. It is so effective that it might double the nutrients taken in from food. This property also helps drugs work more efficiently.
The piperine content of black pepper also makes it an excellent digestive stimulant. It informs the taste buds that the stomach should get ready to produce more hydrochloric acid, essential for the digestion of proteins and other foods in the stomach. It is reputed for its carminative properties and is frequently used to treat gastric problems such as nausea, diarrhoea and even intestinal parasites.
Black pepper might also help you lose weight. According to a study published in 2006, black pepper acts as a thermogenic, meaning that it increases the metabolic rate. Another study found that piperine suppresses genes needed for new fat cell growth, and, as a result, it fights the development of new fat cells.
Black pepper’s antioxidant and immuno-stimulating properties make it a effective barrier against bacteria. Its expectorant properties mean that it is recommended for sore throats, cold, chronic bronchitis and laryngitis. Several studies even suggest that piperine, especially when combined with turmeric, has the ability to kill cancer cells.
Finally, a study published in 2012 reported that piperine increases serotonin levels in the brain, which means that it could be effective against depression. Regular consumption of black pepper also increases cognitive function and enhances brain activity in general.