by Rachael Link, MS, RD
Found in just about every kitchen pantry across the globe, black pepper has been deservedly dubbed the “king of spices” thanks to its versatility and pungent flavor. However, while black pepper may be the most common peppercorn variety, white pepper is a close match in terms of both taste and potential health benefits.
Made from nearly ripe peppercorns that have had the skin removed, white pepper is rich in antioxidants and several important micronutrients, including manganese, fiber and iron. It’s also loaded with piperine, an alkaloid that has been linked to a long list of health-promoting properties. Not only can adding white pepper bring an interesting flavor to your favorite dishes, but it may also help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and keep your digestive system running smoothly.
White Pepper Benefits
- Reduces Inflammation
- Promotes Proper Digestion
- Rich in Antioxidants
- Boosts Curcumin Absorption
- Helps Treat Diarrhea
- Decreases Blood Pressure
1. Reduces Inflammation
While acute inflammation is a sign that your immune system is working hard to fight off foreign invaders and infections, chronic inflammation can actually signify a more serious problem. In fact, research suggests that sustaining inflammation long term may actually contribute to chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. (1)
White pepper is rich in antioxidants that can help alleviate inflammation to prevent health problems in the long run. It also contains piperine, an alkaloid that provides both a pungent and peppery taste as well as an array of anti-inflammatory properties. According to one animal model out of the East-West Bone & Joint Research Institute at Kyung Hee University’s East-West Neo Medical Center in Seoul, Korea, piperine was able to decrease several markers of inflammation when administered to rats with arthritis. (2)
2. Promotes Proper Digestion
Spices such as white pepper are revered for their ability to support healthy digestion. This is largely due to the effects of piperine, which has been shown to stimulate the release of pancreatic and digestive enzymes as well as increase saliva production to help your body break down food more efficiently. (3)
Several animal studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of white pepper when it comes to digestive health. In one animal model from the Central Food Technological Research Institute’s Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition in India, supplementing rats with piperine helped stimulate the secretion of several important digestive enzymes, including pancreatic lipase, amylase, trypsin and chymotrypsin. (4) Similarly, another animal study published in Nutrition Research found that giving rats piperine for a six-week period helped significantly shorten the transit time of foods moving through the gastrointestinal tract. (5)
3. Rich in Antioxidants
Piper nigrum, the plant from which white pepper is derived, is an excellent source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that help fight free radicals to prevent oxidative stress and damage to the cells. Some research suggests that antioxidants could help protect against a range of chronic diseases, including autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease. (6)
Studies show that Piper nigrum acts as an antioxidant to decrease lipid oxidation, thanks to the presence of compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids. Adding white pepper, along with other high-antioxidant foods, to a well-balanced diet can help optimize health and keep your body in tip-top shape.
4. Boosts Curcumin Absorption
Curcumin is well-known for its incredible health-promoting properties. Not only does this powerful chemical supply turmeric with its vibrant yellow hue, but it’s also been shown to relieve inflammation, stabilize blood sugar and reduce joint pain. (7, 8, 9)
Many curcumin supplements are formulated with piperine, the primary component found in white pepper, in order to boost curcumin’s bioavailability and enhance absorption. One animal model published in the journal Planta Medica even showed that using piperine skyrocketed curcumin absorption by 2,000 percent. (10) For this reason, it’s best to use a mix of both turmeric and white or black pepper when preparing your favorite dishes to bump up both the flavor and potential health benefits of your meals.
5. Helps Treat Diarrhea
Diarrhea is a common problem characterized by frequent bowel movements, watery or loose stools, and in severe cases, dehydration symptoms, such as dry mouth, thirst and fatigue. While more research is needed, some studies have found that incorporating white pepper in your diet could help stop diarrhea fast.
A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine reported that stir-fried white pepper was effective at reducing diarrhea frequency in children and infants, especially for those with persistent and acute diarrhea. (11) Other animal studies have also found that the piperine found in white pepper exhibited antidiarrheal effects that could help promote regularity. (12)
6. Decreases Blood Pressure
Eating a high amount of sodium can cause your body to hold on to extra water, raising your blood pressure and putting extra strain on the delicate heart muscle, plus upping your risk of conditions like coronary heart disease. Virtually free of sodium, white pepper is a great option to help simultaneously amp up the flavor of your foods while also cutting down on your salt intake.
Animal and test-tube studies have also demonstrated that white pepper may have blood pressure-lowering properties. One 2010 animal model evaluated the effects of piperine on blood pressure and showed that it was able to prevent increases in blood pressure in rats. (13) Meanwhile, an in vitro study conducted in Pakistan also reported that piperine helped dilate blood vessels to keep blood pressure in check. (14)
White Pepper Nutrition
Adding this tasty spice to your favorite dishes is a great way to take advantage of the white pepper nutritional value. White pepper can help squeeze in a bit of extra manganese, iron and fiber into your diet while also supplying tons of extra flavor and antioxidants.
One tablespoon (about seven grams) of white pepper contains approximately: (15)
- 20.7 calories
- 4.8 grams carbohydrates
- 0.7 gram protein
- 0.1 gram fat
- 1.8 grams dietary fiber
- 0.3 milligram manganese (15 percent DV)
- 1 milligram iron (6 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram copper (3 percent DV)
- 1.5 milligrams vitamin C (2 percent DV)
- 18.6 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)
- 6.3 milligrams magnesium (2 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients listed above, white pepper also contains a small amount of riboflavin, phosphorus and zinc.
White Pepper Uses
Many people use the white pepper spice as a simple way to bump up the flavor of dishes. For aesthetic reasons, it’s sometimes preferred over black pepper for light dishes and sauces, such as white pepper gravy. It’s also often frequently used in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines and works well in soups, stews and chowders for supplying a unique peppery flavor.
The potential white pepper uses extend far beyond the kitchen, however. Some people use it medicinally to promote digestion, prevent bloating and support overall health. It’s also sometimes used to treat conditions like diarrhea and enhance the absorption of compounds like curcumin found in turmeric.
Many people use white pepper for cosmetic purposes as well. It can be softened and added to facial scrubs to exfoliate and slough off dead skin cells, plus help improve circulation and clear out pores. It’s also sometimes combined with other ingredients like yogurt and used as a hair mask to help fight dandruff. Keep in mind, however, that the white pepper benefits for hair and skin have not been well-studied and are limited to anecdotal evidence.
White Pepper in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Although research has only just begun to unearth the wide range of health benefits offered by white pepper, it has actually been considered a staple spice in holistic medicine for many centuries.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, white pepper is used to clear up phlegm and treat dampness, a condition that can weigh you down and contribute to feelings of heaviness and fatigue. It’s also believed to have warming properties and is thought to reduce joint pain and stiffness caused by conditions like carpal tunnel or arthritis.
White pepper also fits seamlessly into a healthy Ayurvedic diet. It’s thought to work especially well for those with a kapha dosha thanks to its ability to clear up congestion and remove excess phlegm. It’s often used to treat coughing, support digestion, enhance heart health, bump up fat burning and provide relief from pain.
White Pepper vs. Black Pepper
Both white and black pepper come from the Piper nigrum plant. This flowering vine is grown for its fruit, which is then dried and used as peppercorn or ground up to season and flavor foods.
Black pepper is made from the drupes of the unripe pepper plant, which are cooked in hot water, dried and then ground up into a spice. White pepper, on the other hand, is made from seed of the nearly ripe pepper plant with the darker skin removed. The skin is removed through a process called retting in which the seed is soaked in water and the skin is slowly decomposed.
Aside from appearance, there are also some differences in flavor between white pepper vs. black pepper. White pepper has a milder taste, while black pepper is considered a more complex and pungent flavor. Black pepper also lasts longer, while white pepper can quickly become stale and lose its flavor very quickly.
Both contain similar health properties, thanks to the presence of piperine, a chemical found in peppercorns that supplies its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Keep in mind that these peppers should not be confused with other chili pepper varieties, such as jalapenos, which get their distinct spicy flavor from the presence of a compound called capsaicin.
Where to Find White Pepper and How to Grow White Pepper
Wondering where to buy white pepper? This highly nutritious and flavorful spice is widely available at most grocery stores and can be found in the spice aisle alongside black pepper and other herbs and spices. Ground white pepper is also available online and can be easily purchased through most major retailers.
If you have a green thumb, you can also try growing your own white pepper from home. Piper nigrum, the white pepper plant, grows well in warm climates and humid conditions. It can be grown year-round and transferred indoors in a large pot during cooler months. Growing your own pepper plants from home requires quite a bit of patience and dedication, however. They can take up to four years to produce fruit, and the seeds alone can take up to 30 days to germinate under ideal conditions.
White Pepper Recipes
Looking for some easy ways to use white pepper? You can easily try a white pepper substitute in place of just about any recipe that calls for black pepper. Here are a few tasty recipes that you can enjoy at home:
Pepper has an extensive history that can be traced back thousands of years. Native to Southeast Asia, records show that it has been used in Indian cooking since at least 2000 B.C.E., if not longer. In ancient times, peppercorns were even considered an important resource and trade commodity and were often referred to as “black gold.”
In ancient Egypt, peppercorns are thought to have been used as part of the mummification process. In fact, black peppercorns were even discovered stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II following his death in the year 1213 B.C. Peppercorns were also used in ancient Greece and were considered an important seasoning during the Roman Empire as well.
In addition to flavoring foods, peppercorn was also commonly used for its medicinal properties. It was often used as a natural remedy for everything from toothaches to constipation and insomnia. Some even believed that white pepper benefits the eyes, and it was sometimes applied in the form of salves or ointments to treat eye conditions.
Today, white pepper is found in a variety of dishes. Not only does it lend a unique flavor to dishes, but it can also help preserve the appearance and improve the aesthetic of light-colored dishes and white sauces or gravies. In recent years, more and more emerging research has unearthed even more reasons to add white pepper to your diet, from its anti-inflammatory properties to its ability to protect against oxidative stress and cell damage.
Both black and white pepper are well-known for their sneeze-inducing effects. Piperine, the alkaloid found in white pepper, can stimulate the nerve endings of the mucous membranes, causing symptoms like irritation and sneezing. Getting pepper in or around your eyes can also cause redness and burning. Keep pepper away from the eyes, and be sure to use water to flush it out thoroughly in case of an emergency.
Some people may also experience food allergy symptoms after eating white pepper. If you notice any side effects, such as hives, swelling, tingling or abdominal pain, after consuming white pepper, discontinue use immediately and consider consulting with a qualified health care professional.
- What is white pepper? It is a seasoning made from nearly ripe peppercorns that have had the skin removed.
- It is often used in light-colored dishes, sauces and gravies to preserve the appearance and add a unique flavor.
- There are several notable differences between white pepper vs. black pepper in terms of their appearance, the way they are produced and their flavor. However, they both boast a similar set of health benefits.
- In terms of nutrition, white pepper is high in antioxidants and contains a hearty dose of fiber, manganese and iron.
- This type of pepper and its components may help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, boost digestion, treat diarrhea and enhance the absorption of other beneficial compounds, like curcumin.
- Incorporate white pepper into a healthy, well-rounded diet and active lifestyle along with other healing spices and herbs to take advantage of the many health benefits it offers.
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