by Virginia Eaton
I owe my ex-husband an apology. He loves black pepper and tops every savory dish placed in front of him with a substantial amount of ground peppercorn. He said that, aside from the spice and flavor black pepper adds, he really liked the crunch of coarsely ground peppercorns.
It bothered me to no end that, before even tasting the dish that I had cooked, he was spicing it up with pepper. He rarely added salt. I even asked that he at least taste the dish before adding more seasoning. Eventually, it became the family joke and the pepper grinder lived next to his place at the dinner table. The reason I owe him an apology is because, as I was researching foods for the class I gave in Utah on eating with celiac disease, I came across compelling information about the health benefits of black pepper.
The hard science on the subject is slim and relates mostly to isolated molecules found in black pepper, rather than black pepper as a whole food. However, the tradition of using black pepper as a home remedy for a myriad of conditions is long standing. It’s noted for maladies including fever, congestion, arthritis, and stomach issues.
It is thought of as an antimicrobial agent, killing bacteria and fungi, that increases the bio-availability of certain foods. This means that black pepper can unlock certain nutrients, making it easier for our body to absorb them.
For instance, everyone seems to be talking about the health properties of turmeric as an anti-inflammatory, however unless you’re combining your turmeric with black pepper, you probably won’t see any benefit. If you take a bottled turmeric preparation, read the label: most likely, black pepper will be on there.
One of the most surprising healing properties of black pepper is in reducing symptoms of heartburn and other stomach issues. Many of the drugs used to treat heartburn have been discovered to be problematic when used long term so I was thrilled to have a new way of approaching this condition.
Using a variation of a recipe from my favorite herb book, (Alchemy of Herbs by Rosalee De La Foret) I create little pepper bombs, offering them to everyone before a large meal, or to anyone who tends towards heartburn.
The recipe is simple — equal amounts of black pepper, long pepper (a type of black pepper) and dried ginger that are ground in my coffee grinder and then bound with just enough honey to hold the spices together. If you add too much honey and the spices won’t hold together simply add more of the spices until it is the consistency of bread dough.
I typically use one tablespoon of each of the spices and about a half to one tablespoon of honey, added a teaspoon at a time. Rolling these into little balls about the size of a pea, I then coat them in dried fennel powder. You can swallow these whole if you don’t like the flavor or chew them up before a hefty meal to prepare the stomach for what is to come!
My mother says they have the unfortunate appearance of something at the bottom of a rabbit hutch, which may be true. They are tasty, nonetheless. The effects of these little pepper balls have pleasantly surprised everyone who has partaken, and the antacids have been returned to the medicine cabinet.
A word of caution: since black pepper increases the bio-availability of certain substances, if you take prescription medications, please check with your doctor before increasing the amount of black pepper in your diet.
Note: The long pepper is a variety of pepper that with complex flavor unlike black peppercorns and can be ordered online.