This week I am doing a Spice Special! Each day there will be a short post (as opposed to my usual 1500 work essays!) about a specific spice, what it's benefits are and how to incorporate it into your daily life. Today's spice is black pepper.
Black pepper is probably the most common spice in the world. It comes from the Piperaceae family of plants in India. This plant is not a seasonal plant, so pepper is available all year round. Peppercorns are the dried berries of the pepper plant and this is what we use as the spice. They can be added whole to a dish, but usually it's added by grinding it into a powder.
This pepper is actually classed as a medicinal spice and has a very high mineral content, giving it a multitude of health benefits.
What It Does For You
Black pepper is packed full of nutrients and minerals. Just one ounce (28g) would give you 79% of the daily recommended value of the manganese; 57% of the vitamin K; 45% of the iron, and 30% of the fibre. However, it's unlikely that we would ever eat that much in a day. Still, it give an idea of how nutritious black pepper is. The minerals found in pepper are used for many things such as controlling blood pressure, protecting against free radicals, producing anti-inflammatory responses and promoting healthy cell growth.
Black pepper helps digestion by stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This is the first step in the digestive system for breaking down foods before they travel to the intestines. If there's not enough hydrochloric acid to break down your food, it may sit in your stomach for a while, causing indigestion and heartburn.
As well as this, black pepper helps prevent the formation of intestinal gases. It has antibacterial properties that keep your digestive tract healthy. It's also a diuretic, meaning that it makes you pee and clears urea out of your body.
In addition to having its own digestion benefits, adding black pepper to a meal also helps you to absorb nutrients from other foods. Adding it to a dish with turmeric makes you much more likely to absorb the active ingredient, curcumin, and get all the benefits of turmeric as well.
Breaks Down Fat Cells
The outer shell of the peppercorn causes the breakdown of fat cells. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, looked at how piperine actually slowed fat tissue growth. Eating black pepper increases your metabolism, causing you to burn more fat from resting. Apparently, adding pepper to your meal burns as many calories as a 20 minute walk.
Helps the Immune System
Just like cayenne pepper and ginger, black pepper raises the temperature of the body and causes sweating. This flushes out toxins from our system and clears the skin pores dirt and bacteria. It also helps alleviate fever since sweating cools the body. I know, that's slightly counterintuitive after saying that it heats the body, but such is life. Pepper has also shown anti-inflammatory properties and free radical protection.
For colds and flus, black pepper is great when added to a hot drink. It breaks down mucus in the respiratory tract and because of its irritating properties, causes you to cough and sneeze. This then helps to clear out the dead cells from your nose and throat and the virus cells causing the symptoms in the first place.
The active ingredient in black pepper, piperine, was found to stimulate chemical pathways in the brain linked to memory and cognitive function.
Piperine has shown that it can stimulate the skin to produce melatonin, which is the pigment that gives your skin colour. When it was applied directly to the skin along with UV light, it proved to be a successful treatment for vitiligo, a condition that causes the skin to lose its pigment and turn white.
Because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, you can also use pepper to soothe insect bites and skin infections.
How To Use It
You can add freshly ground black pepper over almost any dish, such as meat, eggs, stir fries or roasted vegetables. One of the most popular things to sprinkle with crushed peppercorns is probably steak. Add it before cooking to marinade the steak or add it to the pan while cooking it for a fresh flavour Add it near the end of cooking time for stews, soups and stir-fries for the best taste.
Even with non-cooked food, you can make a fresh salad dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and crushed black pepper.
What's your favourite spice to spice up your food with? Let us know in the comments how you use it and don't forget to subscribe to keep up to date with the awesomeness of Spice Special week and much, much more!
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