Ground pepper – the stuff you find on any and every dining room table – was once so revered that it was used as currency. Archaeologists even found black peppercorns (from which ground pepper comes) shoved in the nose of Egyptian ruler Ramses II.
It may have been just to keep the ants out of old Ramses' nose, or maybe it was the last mischievous act of a vengeful rival rather than some sign of how valued peppercorns were. Still, it's clear that pepper has a long and storied history. Largely lost in that history, though, are some of pepper's impressive biological effects.
- Black pepper helps you lose weight. Pepper, according to a study published in Physiology and Behaviour in 2006, acts as a thermogenic. In other words, it increases your metabolism. Another study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2012 reported that black pepper even suppresses the development of new fat cells.
- Black pepper increases athletic performance. Piperine, a constituent of black pepper, causes muscles to burn more glucose and fat during exercise. The study, reported in Nutrition & Metabolism earlier this year, was done on mice but there's good reason to think it would work the same way on us human types. The human equivalent of piperine for a 175-pound man would be about 40 mg, and you can get that much in about 1.3 grams of pepper (white or black).
- Black pepper increases the absorption of nutrients. As mentioned above, pepper contains a chemical called piperine, and in addition to possibly increasing athletic performance, it also helps you absorb other notoriously hard to digest vitamins and mineral like beta carotene, selenium, B-vitamins, as well as other nutrients.
- Black pepper helps digestion and prevents intestinal gas. Black pepper causes the stomach to secrete more hydrochloric acid, which aids in the digestion of proteins. It's also known as a "carminative," which means that it's something that discourages the formation of intestinal gas.
- It promotes heart health. The November 2013 issue of Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics reported that black pepper has beneficial effects on blood pressure. It also reduces inflammation, which is a big factor in heart disease.
Just about anything that comes from a plant is full of antioxidants, curbs inflammation, and fights cancer, so black pepper also has all that going for it. It's also high in minerals like manganese, zinc, magnesium, and iron, as well as Vitamin K, although you'd have to take a lot of pepper to get any appreciable amounts of those nutrients.
Malaria parasites in the bloodstream don't seem to like black pepper at all, either.
Black pepper is available crushed, ground, or as whole peppercorns. While the ground or crushed variety only has a shelf life of about three months, whole peppercorns last practically forever. In fact, if some of them fall out of an Egyptian mummy's nose, feel free to grind them up and use them.
To really get the most out of pepper's attributes, you should strive to use about a teaspoon a day. That seems like a lot, but if you literally spread it out over a few meals (on eggs, sandwiches, meat, or even unorthodox foods like oatmeal or even a cookie), you can easily ingest that much.