Black pepper

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Black pepper
Pepper plant with immature peppercorns
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Piperales
Family: Piperaceae
Genus: Piper
Species: P. nigrum
Binomial name
Piper nigrum
L.

Black pepper is a plant that grows in the tropics, especially in India. The plant is a perennial vine that bears flowers. People cultivate the plant for its fruit, the peppercorn. The peppercorn can be used as a spice or condiment. Usually, it makes things hot.

There are several different plants called Pepper, all are in the Piper genus of Piperaceae.

From the 16th century onwards, people used the word pepper to also refer to the Chile peppers, which come from a completely unrelated plant.

Peppercorn as a condiment[change | edit source]

Pepper is one of the most common spices used around the world. It is very common in European cuisine, and has been known and traded for a very long time. Very often, the peppercorns are ground, and the powder is used to make things taste hot.

Peppercorn as a medicine[change | edit source]

'There's certainly too much pepper in that soup!' Alice said to herself, as well as she could for sneezing.Alice in Wonderland (1865). Chapter VI: Pig and Pepper. Note the cook's pepper mill.

Like all eastern spices, pepper was historically both a seasoning and a medicine. Long pepper, being stronger, was often the preferred medication, but both were used.

Black peppercorns are mentioned in Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani medicine in India. The 5th century Syriac Book of Medicines prescribes pepper (or perhaps long pepper) for illnesses such as constipation, diarrhea, earache, gangrene, heart disease, hernia, hoarseness, indigestion, insect bites, insomnia, joint pain, liver problems, lung disease, oral abscesses, sunburn, tooth decay, and toothaches.[1] Various sources from the 5th century onward also say pepper is good to treat eye problems. Often special ointments made with pepper have to be applied directly to the eye. There is no current medical evidence that any of these treatments has any benefit; pepper applied directly to the eye would be quite uncomfortable and possibly damaging.[2]

For a long time, people believed pepper is the cause for sneezing; this is still believed true today. Some sources say that piperine irritates the nostrils, which will cause the sneezing;[3] some say that it is just the effect of the fine dust in ground pepper, and some say that pepper is not in fact a very effective sneeze-producer at all. Few if any controlled studies have been carried out to answer the question.

Pepper can irritate the intestines. It is therefore eliminated from the diet of patients having abdominal surgery and ulcers. The replacement is usually called a bland diet.

Pepper contains small amounts of safrole, a carcinogenic compound.

References[change | edit source]

  1. Turner p. 160.
  2. Turner p. 171.
  3. U.S. Library of Congress Science Reference Services "Everyday Mysteries", Why does pepper make you sneeze?. Retrieved November 12, 2005.
  • Turner, Jack (2004). Spice: The History of a Temptation. Vintage Books. ISBN 0-375-70705-0.

Other websites[change | edit source]