Black Pepper Oil: History, Benefits, and More
Black Pepper—so what can it do beyond the kitchen?
Black Pepper has become an indisputable staple of the culinary world.
It’s the one spice that has earned an eternal place on the table, right next to the ever-important salt, rather than being tucked away in the spice cabinet.
So, what’s the truth behind black pepper and its rise to prominence? What uses, ancient and modern, has it found outside of adding flavoring to savory dishes? The truth may surprise you.
The sharp, energizing taste and smell of this dried fruit have fascinated man for centuries, so much so that it was used as food, medicine, currency, and even as a ransom for Rome. Modernly, black pepper has drawn interest as a possible help for arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases, nicotine-addiction!
To help you see the potential in that little black pepper shaker, we’ve put together this page: featuring the history, modern uses, manufacturing process, and cautions associated with black pepper and black pepper oil.
So if you’re ready to understand the “king of spices”, read on...
Best Uses for Black Pepper Oil
History of Black Pepper
Black Pepper is actually a fruit! It comes from the dried out berries of the Piper nigrum plant, which grows primarily in southern India.
This spice has found a place in Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, and the medicines of ancient Greece. The Romans were very fond of black pepper too, but the distance one had to carry black pepper to sell it in Europe made it an expensive, luxury item in the West.
Eventually the Age of Exploration brought traders from both China and Europe to India and their faster shipping means made black pepper available to more people for a lower price. Today, black pepper is the #1 spice in the world, making up one-fifth of the modern spice market.
Black Pepper Essential Oil Uses
A Note on Black Pepper Oil Research:
There are not many studies involving black pepper oil. Currently, the greatest amount of black pepper-related research focuses on extracts or the chemical constituent piperine.
Due to the chemical similarities between a plant’s extract and its essential oils, we feel that studies focusing on black pepper extracts are worth considering here.
Also, multiple scholarly sources claim that piperine is a present constituent in black pepper oil, though certainly not the most plentiful chemical constituent (Meghwal 2012, Tran 2019). Therefore, studies on piperine will also be considered on this page. However, it should be noted that no absolute claims can be made through such peripheral research.
On Plant Extracts vs. Essential Oils
Just as aromatherapy is considered a branch of herbal medicine, the benefits of essential oils should perhaps be considered as a branch off of what the raw herbal material can do medicinally.
Admittedly, some of the herb’s medicinal or wellness benefits may be enhanced by the concentrated form of essential oils—but one must also remember that some chemical and nutritional parts of herbs are left behind in the essential oil-making process. Boswellic acid in Frankincense and Vitamin C in citrus fruits are good examples of this idea.
Mental & Emotional Benefits
Can black pepper oil reduce anxiety, stress, and depression?
Admittedly, however, other essential oils, such as lavender, are far better researched for this benefit.
Can black pepper oil help you quit smoking?
Maybe. One small human study (Cordell 2013) from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that inhaling black pepper oil helped the subjects reduce their nicotine cravings. That’s not certainly enough evidence to be conclusive, but enough perhaps to encourage further research.
Can black pepper oil reduce pain?
Possibly. The best research so far comes from a 2014 human study on neck pain (Ou 2014) in which four different oils, including black pepper, were combined into a cream and applied to the skin for four weeks. Apart from that, there are some animal studies, one done with black pepper oil (Jeena 2012) and another with piperine (Talseem 2014).
Also, if the pain is coming from a small wound, one might consider that black pepper oil has shown anti-inflammatory (Jeena 2012)), tissue-remodeling (Han 2018), and antibacterial (Zhang 2017) effects in in vitro studies.
Once again, there are essential oils that have a stronger body of research behind them for pain and wound healing, but if black pepper is all you have on hand…
Can black pepper oil work as an antispasmodic and aid digestion?
Maybe. There are a few scattered studies that suggest that black pepper and black pepper oil may be able to support various points of the food-processing, well, process.
One small human study (Ebihara 2006) suggests that black pepper can help those who have difficulty swallowing.
A couple of reviews published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition have noted piperine’s ability to enhance the bioavailability of certain nutrients and pharmaceuticals (Srinivasan 2007) and black pepper’s traditional use for gastrointestinal disorders in livestock (Takooree 2019). And one animal study has shown antispasmodic effects to piperine that may help against gastrointestinal motility disorders (Mehmood 2010).
And one human study (Zanzer 2018) has even shown that black pepper-based beverages may assist in appetite reduction—which could be linked to the success of another, animal study in which black pepper extract promoted murine weight loss (Parim 2015).
Can black pepper oil work as a neuroprotective?
Perhaps, it certainly shows potential. Animal studies done with piperine and methanolic extracts show black pepper’s promise in helping against Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and general memory loss (Yang 2015, Hritcu 2014).
Can black pepper oil help against cardiovascular disease?
Maybe. So far there has only been one animal study (Vijayakumar 2002) on this benefit. More definite answers will have to wait for more research.
Manufacturing Black Pepper Oil
Black pepper only really grows well in growing zones 11 and 12, maybe 10 if you are careful. Some growers outside of these zones have managed to raise Piper nigrum plants by keeping them in greenhouses or potting them and keeping them indoors during the winter, but the long, twisting vines of this plant can make that option a little tricky.
Black Pepper thrives in warm, humid climates with well-drained soil, so it can have water whenever it needs it but won’t get stuck with overly-moist soil that leads to root rot. They do well in partial shade, and it’s best if they are planted near a trellis so that the vines can have room to grow without getting overly tangled.
The seeds take roughly thirty days to germinate and the plant itself needs to be anywhere from 3-7 years old before it will start to bear fruit.
Kinda high-maintenance, right? But, the results are worth it.
Once it reaches its fruit-bearing stage the Piper nigrum plant will produce fruit year-round for about twenty years! It doesn’t really take any pruning, just regular water, fertilizing, and sunlight.
You can get three different types of peppercorn from the Piper nigrum plant, depending on when you harvest. Firstly, green peppercorns are harvested the earliest, before the fruit has fully matured. Secondly, red peppercorns are often harvested and dried, turning into the black peppercorns that are most popularly used. And thirdly, sometimes the fruit is left even longer on the vine until it is even more mature, after which the still red peppercorns are harvested and the red outer-layers removed to reveal white peppercorns underneath.
The steam distillation process for the extraction of the oil is pretty standard. Researchers have found that the oil yield will increase as the team temperature increases, but anywhere over 135 degrees Celsius/ 374 degrees Fahrenheit and the oil quality may be compromised.
Black Pepper Oil Varieties
Most popular cultivar
Selectively chosen for size, positioning, and age/color.
Ecuador/Talamanca del Caribe
Very high in piperine content, which increases its heat
Sweeter and more meaty-tasting than other cultivars
Grown in Indonesia
High in Piperine
Earthy, smoky aroma with a hint of cinnamon
Popular in French cuisine
Less potent than Tellicherry
Any essential oil can be dangerous if used incorrectly.
The three rules that apply to just about every essential oil are:
- ALWAYS dilute according to your distributor’s instructions
- ALWAYS apply a patch test before using any new essential oil.
- And make sure to ONLY apply your essential oil according to the doses and routes (aromatherapy, topical application, or ingestion) approved by your distributor.
Apart from remembering the basic rules, there aren’t many specific cautions for black pepper. Just a few sidenotes on one of its constituents piperine.
Those with bleeding conditions, diabetes, and those who are scheduled for surgery should do their own research and exercise greater caution in using black pepper oil.
The King of Spice’s reign in the Western Culinary world is indisputable. And the body of research behind its medicinal benefits is growing. It seems that black pepper can’t be stopped, no matter what age or region you find it in!
And as it has come this far, we are excited to see where black pepper will go next!