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Is Eating Peppercorns Good for You?



Peppercorns are the fruit of a flowering plant called piper nigrum.[i] For centuries, they have been used by people all around the world to add flavor to meals. Pepper is native to the Malabar Coast of India[ii], but it is now grown in nearly every tropical region, including Vietnam, Brazil, China, and Indonesia[iii].

It is perhaps the world’s most popular spice and is used in so many dishes all around the world. It pairs well with many different flavors and that makes it a common choice to add to savory meals but also some sweet ones[iv].

You’re likely most familiar with black pepper. Along with salt, black pepper is found on most tables in North America and it’s commonly added to many different meals. However, did you know that there are several types of peppercorns, each with their own unique flavor and health benefits?



Types of Peppercorn

Black peppercorns are the most common variety in North America. They’ve been used for centuries all around the world to add flavor to foods. However, did you know that black peppercorns are actually green peppercorns that have been cooked and dried?[v]

Green peppercorns are less common in North America today, but they are more common in Asian cuisine. These can be eaten fresh, as a part of a stir-fry for example, but they are also often preserved in brine or vinegar and served pickled.[vi]

White peppercorns are actually from the same plant, and they’re often harvested at the same time as black peppercorns. However, they’re skinned, which gives them a white appearance and the are less pungent and have a milder flavor. Since an additional step in required in the preparation of white peppercorns, they’re often rarer and more expensive than black ones.[vii]


Red peppercorns also start off as the same as all other peppercorns and come from the same plant. However, they are allowed to ripen fully, so they turn red. This makes them must less common and much more difficult to find than other types of peppercorns. That’s because most peppercorns are picked earlier and used for green or white peppercorns.


Pink peppercorns, on the other hand, come from a completely different plant. They’re actually not peppers are all! Instead, they are genetically closer to cashews. However, they look similar to other peppercorns, so they’re often marketed as another type of peppercorn. Their taste is more mild and sweeter than other types of peppercorns.[viii]




How to Use Peppercorns

Peppercorns of all colors are used to add more flavor to foods. Black peppercorns usually have the strongest aroma and flavor, so they’re often used in dishes where some gentle heat is desired, such as in many meat dishes, with steak, and in curry.

Green peppercorns tend to be used in similar dishes. However, since they are often packed and preserved fresh instead of dried, these dishes are prepared differently than ones containing black peppercorn.

White peppercorns are also often served ground, much like black peppercorns, however, their taste is more mild, so they can’t really be used in the same recipes as black peppercorns.[ix]


Peppercorns are used in many recipes in many different ways. Black peppercorns can be used in everything from meat to fish, eggs to pickles and even dessert.[x]

In general, black peppercorns provide a sharp taste and bit of heat to most meals. White peppercorns are used when you’d like something milder. Green peppercorns have a sweeter and brighter flavor. Red peppercorns then to have a deeper and more complex flavor. Freshly ground peppercorns have a stronger flavor than pre-ground. The courser the grind, the more texture they add to your meal.[xi]



Red peppercorns are peppercorns that are left on the vine until they are fully ripened, and turn red.  In order to preserve the red color, the berries were marinating in salt water. They are the most difficult to find and the most expensive as they take the longest amount of time to mature, and most peppercorns are picked early for black and white peppers. Red peppercorns are much delicate, if you want to crush them it is best to use a pestle and mortar rather than a pepper mill. Red peppercorn is known for its fruity, floral, and citrus flavors. Hence, it is suitable for seafood, fish, poultry and white meat, which can help to remove fishy smell and increasing fragrance of the dish.

During my testing, I crushed some of these red peppercorns in a mortar and pestle, then sprinkle on my fish tofu dish towards the end. The floral note of the red pepper has added a different level of flavor to the dish 


Health Benefits of Peppercorns           

There are many health benefits to eating peppercorns. For instance, when paired with fruits and vegetables (which are often rich in antioxidants), black pepper can help increase absorption.[xii] Antioxidants counteract free radicals, which are unstable molecules that damage cells and DNA.[xiii]

Peppercorns have also been linked to anti-inflammatory benefits.[xiv]  It can also help improve blood sugar metabolism,[xv] help stimulate hydrochloric acid in your stomach and improve digestion[xvi], and it can reduce levels of “bad cholesterol” which can prevent heart disease[xvii].

Black pepper specifically is a warming stimulant and can help support digestion. It can also be used to treat many cold and flu symptoms as well as mucus congestion.[xviii]

White pepper contains a chemical called piperine which has been shown to reduce pain, improve breathing, reduce inflammation, and improve brain function.[xix]



References:

[i] “What Are Peppercorns and What Do You Do With Them?” Yahoo! Life. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/peppercorns-them-220850876.html

[ii] “Complete Guide to Herbs and Spices” National Geographic. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://books.google.ca/books?id=DmscDQAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y

[iii] “Where Does Pepper Come From?” Cole & Mason. Retrieved May 27, 2024.  https://coleandmasonusa.com/blogs/seasoning/where-does-pepper-come-from

[iv] “A Guide to Pepper: The World’s Most Popular Spice” Serious Eats. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.seriouseats.com/guide-to-pepper-varieties

[v] “What Are Peppercorns and What Do You Do With Them?” All Recipes. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.allrecipes.com/article/what-are-peppercorns/

[vi] “Peppercorns, Green”. Silk Road Spices. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://silkroadspices.ca/products/peppercorns-green

[vii] “What is White Pepper, Anyway?” Bon Appetit. Retrieved May 27, 2024.  https://www.bonappetit.com/story/white-pepper

[viii] “Are Red Peppercorns the Same As Pink Peppercorns?” nigella.com. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.nigella.com/ask/are-red-peppercorns-the-same-as-pink-peppercorns

[ix] “What's the difference between black, white, pink and green peppercorns?” USA Today. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://10best.usatoday.com/interests/food-culture/peppercorn-guide-black-white-pink-green-pepper/

[x] “How to cook with peppercorns” Love Food. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.lovefood.com/guides/128070/how-to-cook-with-peppercorns

[xi] “How to Use All Kinds of Peppercorns, From Black and White to Pink” Martha Stewart Living. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.marthastewart.com/what-are-peppercorns-how-to-use-each-type-7692717

[xii] “What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Black Pepper Every Day” Eating Well. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.eatingwell.com/benefits-of-black-pepper-8574829

[xiii] “Understanding antioxidants.” Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-antioxidants

[xiv] “What Are the Health Benefits of Black Pepper?” Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/benefits-of-black-pepper

[xv] “11 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Black Pepper “ Healthline. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/black-pepper-benefits

[xvi] “Black Pepper: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Uses” WebMD. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-black-pepper

[xvii] “What to Know About Black Pepper and Piperine Supplements” Very Well Health. Retrieved May 27, 2024.  https://www.verywellhealth.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-black-pepper-7564549

[xviii] “Black Pepper Health Benefits” Herbs with Rosalee. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/black-pepper-health-benefits.html

[xix] “White Pepper - Uses, Side Effects, and More” WebMD. Retrieved May 27, 2024. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1529/white-pepper

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