Black Pepper—like cinnamon, is a staple spice in the ayurvedic pantry. Considered one of the strongest digestives through the lens of Ayurveda, black pepper is one spice that is practically on every table in Nothern America. From restaurants to fast food joints and even pantries that are not spice heavy, likely this stimulating spice. The accessibility factor is what rates it high on our list of favorite medicinal grade spices.
Aside from adding a little heat to a meal, black pepper is considered a booster. Stimulating the digestive fire, or agni while also helping the body “digest” ama, or toxins accumulated from undigested food. In stimulating the agni, it increases digestive enzymes, helping to enhance nutrient absorption.
The power to keep things moving, stimulated and circulating comes from black peppers’ pungent taste made of the fire and air elements. Within the pungent taste, black pepper, unlike coriander seeds, is heating. Increasing internal warmth, while balancing the cold qualities of raw foods such as cucumbers or lettuce based salads.
Considered to have a rajas nature, black pepper can act as an irritant. Meaning it is action producing spice. If you have ever taken a whiff of freshly ground peppercorns and sneezed or coughed, you have experienced its rajasic nature. This quality is why its often used in respiratory formulas in Ayurveda or recommended during the cold winter months when wet, mucus and sticky congestion tend to accumulate. The combination of heat and the rajasic quality supports releasing and melting away the stagnant, heavy, sticky quality of mucus.
In the cold winter months, when kapha dosha tends to accumulate and colds, phlegm, mucus start to increase an extra twist of freshly ground black pepper can boost sluggish digestion and balance the heavy qualities of winter meals. Due to its strong flavor and potency—a little goes a long way. A slight increase to your normal intake of black pepper can act as a preventative measure in reducing mucus accumulation.
If you increase your intake of black pepper, tune in to how to see how it is affecting you. Checking in with yourself is an awareness-raising tool that fosters our intellectual fire, or buddhi. And can greatly help tune into our own rhythms, nature and in prevention. A few questions to ask are: did it make you feel warmer, or sneeze, cough, loosen some phlegm in the chest? Perhaps mucus you didn’t realize you had? Was the taste enjoyable? Based on your answers slightly increase or decrease the quantity or how often you are adding black pepper to your meals. Remember, it is all about balance—if your mouth is burning or you break out in a sweat, these are good indications to reduce or omit black pepper. Stay within your comfort zone.
Eating should be a pleasurable experience—visually, aromatically and for your taste buds.
THE BENEFITS OF BLACK PEPPER
- Improves digestion
- Removes toxins
- Helps absorb nutrients
- Stimulates the appetite
- Reduces congestion
- Improves circulation
- Promotes sweating (great if there is water retention)
- Pacifies vata and kapha doshaes. Increases pitta dosha (this doesn’t mean a person with a pitta constitution should not eat black pepper, but they need to be more careful especially if pitta dosha is imbalanced. Monitor intake and food combinations)
HOW TO SPICE UP YOUR LIFE WITH BLACK PEPPER
Salad: Grind about ¼ tsp to ½ tsp into your salad dressing or after tossing—this is a great way to balance the cold qualities of salads and help digest raw/cold foods.
Sauté: Add ½ tsp to 1 tsp depending on the quantity of vegetables to hot oil/ghee to release the aroma and essential oils (about 30 secs), prior to adding in your veggies.
Soup: Grind 1/8 tsp to a 1/4 tsp in your bowl in addition to what the recipe calls for if you are feeling cold and congested or during the winter months.
Infusion/Stock: add a few black peppercorns to the water used to make rice, grains, pasta etc.. It will bring a wonderful aroma and a gentle black pepper flavor to the grains. (addition add-ons cloves, cardamom, cinnamon sticks and/or bay leaves)
Stews: add whole peppercorns to add a subtle taste to the background that less peppery but still slightly warming.
People with a little extra (imbalance) Pitta (heat) or digestive issues like IBS, should be wary… too much black pepper might not be the best option—listen to your body.