Today we talk about pepper, the king of spices! The black pepper that we find on supermarket shelves is the dried fruit of the pepper plant, scientific name Piper nigrum. This spice is widely used and appreciated to give taste and aroma to dishes but, as we will see, also to reinforce the beneficial action of other ingredients, such as turmeric. Let's try to understand better based on scientific research.
Black pepper, properties
Black pepper has an antimicrobial action against a wide range of pathogens. Not only that, this spice also shows antioxidant and antitumor properties that are expressed through various mechanisms, such as induction of apoptosis, namely the programmed death of diseased cells, and cytotoxicity, namely the destruction of a part of the cells that present degeneration (Butt et al, Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 2013). Pepper, added to the preparations, makes vitamins, such as vitamins A and C, and mineral salts, such as selenium, more easily assimilable, is also digestive, since it stimulates the production of digestive enzymes in the pancreas and increases the digestive capacity resulting in a help in case of elaborate culinary preparations (Srinivasan et al, Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 2007 - Fernandez Lazaro et al, Nutrients, 2020). And that's not all, black pepper is antidiabetic, it helps to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides. Not only that, this fragrant and spicy spice acts with anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, so much that its benefits have been observed in case of arthritis and asthma (Bang et al, Arthritis Res Ther, 2009 - Kim et al, J Pharm Pharmacol, 2009). Finally it is neuroprotective, supporting cognitive function. These properties of black pepper just seen are due to the substances contained in it, mainly to its most important active ingredient, piperine (Takooree et al, Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 2019).
Pepper and turmeric
Thanks to piperine, pepper increases the bioavailability of curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric, which otherwise would hardly exceed the stomach barrier (Zhang et al, Int J Food Sci Nutr, 2015). An excellent salad dressing is therefore given by a teaspoon of turmeric and a generous grind of pepper, all dissolved in extra virgin olive oil, which even more increases the availability of curcumin. In this way the salad becomes a true concentrate of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substances.
Pepper and side effects
A pinch of pepper added to dishes, as we have seen, enriches them with healthy properties. However, like any food and spice, even in this case the quantity cannot be exaggerated, as it could have an irritating action on the gastric mucosa (Myers et al, Am J Gastroenterol, 1987). For this same reason, black pepper should be avoided in case of ulcers, gastritis, reflux and hemorrhoids (Aufiero, The nutritional and therapeutic role of food).