Black Pepper, the King of Spices: Its History, Benefits, and Side-Effects

Published on August 11, 2023

By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

Black Pepper doesn’t just add flavor to your food. It stimulates your tastebuds so you taste more flavors in the food you are eating. It may also aid your health by boosting the bioavailability and absorption of many of the important vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds in your meal.

While enhancing flavor is a great reason to season your food with black pepper, supporting your health is even better. 

Traditional Uses of Black Pepper Throughout History

Black Pepper, the dried fruit of the Black Pepper (piper nigrum) plant, originated in South India and has been used for its medicinal properties in traditional systems of medicine for over 2,000 years. An integral part of Ayurvedic medicine and Asian medicinal systems, black peppercorns gained popularity in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Black pepper was one of the most sought-after commodities during the spice trade era, from around 1,000 BCE to 1,000 CE, and was worth its weight in gold. The spice routes, which connected the East and the West, were established primarily to facilitate the trade of black pepper and other spices.

Some of the traditional uses of black pepper in Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ancient Greek and Roman medicine included:

  • Balance of the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) (Ayurveda)
  • Digestive aid
  • Respiratory support
  • Immune support
  • Pain management
  • Circulation
  • Cognitive function

While modern scientific research continues to explore and validate some of these historical uses, it's essential to note that traditional medicine is based on empirical knowledge and requires scientific evidence to support health benefit claims. There is not yet sufficient human research to confirm the efficacy of the traditional uses for Black Pepper. 

The Active Compounds in Black Pepper

Black pepper owes its pungent flavor, aroma, and many of its potential health benefits to a diverse array of active compounds, including minerals, vitamins, alkaloids, flavonoids, and carotenoids.REF#2634 The most significant active compounds in black pepper include:

  • Piperine: Piperine is the primary bioactive compound in black pepper. It is responsible for the spice's pungency and peppery taste. Piperine has various health-promoting properties and is believed to enhance nutrient absorption in the digestive system, making it a valuable component of traditional medicine formulations.
  • Alkaloids: In addition to piperine, black pepper contains other alkaloids like piperettine, piperlongumine, and piperanine, contributing to its potential health activities.
  • Essential Oils: The essential oils in Black Pepper are responsible for the spice’s distinct aroma. The volatile oil content of Black Pepper ranges from 0.4 to seven percent and contains numerous compounds, including limonene, pinene, sabinene, myrcene, and beta-caryophyllene.
  • Flavonoids: Black Pepper contains various flavonoids, a group of polyphenolic compounds known for their health-promoting properties. Some flavonoids found in Black pepper include quercetin, kaempferol, rutin, and apigenin.
  • Terpenes: Several terpenes, which are natural compounds, contribute to Black Pepper’s aroma and flavor. These include beta-pinene, alpha-pinene, and delta-3-carene.

These active compounds work synergistically to provide Black Pepper with its various health benefits. Piperine, in particular, has been extensively studied for its role in enhancing the bioavailability of certain nutrients and its potential therapeutic applications.

4 Known Health Benefits of Black Pepper

Most of the modern research on Black Pepper and its active compound piperine has been in the form of animal studies. While we still don’t understand the mechanism of this wonderful spice and more studies are needed, there is good evidence that Black Pepper may offer the following potential health benefits.

1. Enhanced Nutrient Absorption

Multiple studies indicate that piperine enhances the bioavailability of certain nutrients, increasing the amount of nutrition you get from the food you eat and the supplements you take. It is believed that by inhibiting certain drug-metabolizing enzymes in the gut, along with several other mechanisms of action, piperine increases the absorption of these nutrients and potentially improves their health benefits. REF#2635

Bioavailability refers to how much of a nutrient your body can absorb and use after digestion. If a nutrient has low bioavailability, much of it will simply be excreted and not provide any of its potential health benefits. High bioavailability means more of a nutrient is available to target tissues.

Most importantly, piperine may maximize the amount of two important nutrients: Curcumin (found in Turmeric)REF#2636 and beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A).REF#2637 When included in a supplement with curcumin, an organic compound known to support the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, piperine affected a 2,000 percent increase in the bioavailability of curcumin. This is why you’ll find many Turmeric supplements that include Black Pepper in their formulation. 

Piperine may also have similar effects on other nutrients, such as ironREF#2638, and plant-based compounds, but more research is needed.

2. Gut Health Support

The Piperine in Black Pepper stimulates the taste receptors on the tongue, which signals the stomach to start secreting more hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. This enhanced secretion may help break down foods more efficiently. Piperine supplements may reduce symptoms of gastrointestinal issues like occasional bloating, occasional gas, and occasional constipation.*

Black Pepper may also support digestive health by limiting the salt you need to season food. Excess salt intake can be harmful, especially to cardiac health.

3. Oxidative Stress Management

Black pepper contains various antioxidants, including flavonoids and other phenolic compounds, which can help neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the body. These antioxidant properties may contribute to the spice's potential for protecting cells from damage. 

4. Inflammation Management

Research indicates the antioxidants in Black Pepper may help manage inflammation and may benefit those who suffer from joint pain due to normal wear and tear. The pain management properties of Black Pepper are accentuated when the spice is combined with curcumin. 

While Black Pepper's active compounds have shown additional promising health effects in scientific research, further studies are needed to fully understand their mechanisms of action and potential applications in managing your health. 

As with any supplement, you should consume black pepper in moderate amounts as part of a balanced diet. If you have specific health conditions, consult your healthcare provider before increasing your use of Black Pepper.

Black Pepper Side Effects and Precautions

Generally, it is considered safe to add freshly ground Black Pepper to your meals daily, although research is needed to determine the maximum safe dosage. In most cases, when using Black Pepper as a seasoning, your taste buds will be your guide. Be aware, however, that higher amounts may cause some gastrointestinal discomfort, such as heartburn or indigestion. 

High levels of Black Pepper ingestion have led to several negative side effects. While rare, these include rashes, toxicity, gastric bleeding, induced miscarriage, male fertility issues, and over-absorption of antihistamines and other drugs.

If you plan to use Black Pepper for health support, consult your healthcare provider for advice, especially if you are taking medications or have a health condition.

Due to potential negative effects, future studies are required to determine a safe dose for pure piperine since it represents a promising agent for the treatment of many ailments. 

How to Take Black Pepper as an Herbal Supplement

Adding up to two teaspoons of Black Pepper to your meals daily should give you all the nutrients from this spice you need. However, you can purchase Black Pepper as a supplement in extract, capsule, or essential oil form. 

You can also use black peppercorns to make a spicy tea, seeping ½ teaspoon of black peppercorns with green tea and crushed ginger in hot water. Or, add black peppercorns and a spoonful of honey to boiled water and bring the drink to room temperature before drinking. Black Pepper is also a good spice to add to fresh-squeezed vegetable or fruit juices. 

While it may be too intense for most people, you can also chew several whole black peppercorns first thing in the morning before eating to curb your appetite.


  • 1. , "Phytochemistry and therapeutic potential of black pepper [Piper nigrum (L.)] essential oil and piperine: a review,", Clinical Phytoscience .
  • 2. , "Bioavailability enhancers of herbal origin: An overview,", Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine.
  • 3. , "Piperine, an alkaloid derived from black pepper increases serum response of beta-carotene during 14-days of oral beta-carotene supplementation", Nutrition Research .
  • 4. , "Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health", Foods .
  • 5. , "Iron and Physical Activity: Bioavailability Enhancers, Properties of Black Pepper (Bioperine®) and Potential Applications", Nutrients .