Black Gold – The King of Spice for Gut Health
Hello all. You may be wondering what the title “black gold” is about. I know durians are in season and everyone is going crazy about “mountain cat” and “black gold” and all. But this is not that black gold I am talking about. This treasure is from South Asia and in particular the Malabar Coast of India and grows on a woody vine creeper. It is also known as the King of spices…aaaand it is…BLACK PEPPER (Piper nigrum, maricha, lada hitam, 黑胡椒).
These little spherical treasures that appear green when plucked, turns black as it is left to dry. This humble spice has found its place in everyone’s kitchen far and wide. In addition to black pepper being a spice that elevates the character of a dish, it also doubles up as a medicine. That is why ayurveda regards food as medicine.
In ayurveda, food is recognized by taste (rasa), quality (guna), potency (veerya), post digestion (vipaka) and special properties (prabhava). Black pepper is categorized as pungent (katu), has a piercing quality (tiskshna) and is hot (ushna). Despite the heaty potency, it is still light (lagu) on our tummy. My mum never used chilli powder to prepare curries for me during all my post-natal confinement periods, instead she used black pepper for heat. That’s how light black pepper is on digestion compared to chilli. kapha prakriti people can blitz away black pepper in your fruit juices to balance the fruits’ cooling effect and also to balance out the inherent sweetness and heaviness of kapha. All those with vata vitiation – hail the black pepper. Because it will help reduce your bloatedness. However predominantly pitta prakriti or those with pitta vitiation, need to take pepper with caution.
Black pepper’s warming effect is especially good combined with betel leaves when one is having cold and phlegmy (kapha) congestion. So, when you have a stuffy nose and your mum whips up a concoction of holy basil (tulsi), black pepper (maricha) and ginger (shunti) , sweetened with palm sugar, give her a great big hug (but only after you have recovered). You don’t want her to catch your bug do you, especially in this Covid stricken time!.
Because of its sharp qualities (tikshna guna) and potency (ushna veerya), black pepper can “pierce” through channels (srota) hence, aids in cleansing (shodhana) your gut and transport nutrients (anupana) as well. Thus, you will have your gut health in check. The “heaty” property of black pepper will help ignite your digestion. It also has a property called äma pachana, a concept unique to ayurveda. When the digestive power is low, food doesn’t get digested to its optimum and remains undigested. ama is the undigested food then circulates in the channels causing blockage and is the first step towards disease formation in the ayurveda concept of shad kriya kala (6 stages of disease). So adding black pepper to your diet will help boost your digestive power. Of course, pitta prakriti should take pepper with caution.
Talking about gut health and digestion, you can try to tickle your digestion process early in the morning by consuming black pepper stuffed dates before eating anything else. For those of you who feel that dates are too sweet for your liking, try stuffing a black pepper or two in them. It will taste more pleasant…you’re very welcome. I learnt this trick from an ayurveda doctor. Dates are quite unctuous (snigdha) in nature and heavy (guru) on the digestion, so black pepper will help to balance it out. However, those who are pitta prakriti should be cautious about overdoing the black pepper.
Modern science has shown the efficacy of black pepper in reducing weight, improving digestion, increasing metabolism, its effect on nervous system in treating neuralgia, and I can go on and on about it. But listen to your grandma who has already discovered the power of black pepper eons ago and enjoy the rasam (South Indian spicy tangy soup) that she prepares every day for your lunch. She may not have a degree or have read all those scientific journals, but she has the basics of ayurveda down to the nail, thanks to the ancient tradition of passing down knowledge.
Maybe for a change, after reading this article, you should go and prepare a good bowl of rasam for your grandma as a gesture of thank you. Well, you can enjoy it yourself with your loved ones too. So here is a recipe for Indian gooseberry rasam that’s a little different from the conventional rasam. So, go put on your apron and whip up a soul warming bowl of Indian gooseberry rasam. All said, don’t go crazy on consuming black pepper because there is a saying that goes “even an elixir can turn to poison if consumed excessively”. Also there are ways in which food should be consumed. Things such as your dosha, strength (bala), time of the day (kala), season (ritu) etc must be taken into consideration.
NB Ladies, you can use pepper for your own defence. Bring along pepper spray with you if you need to walk down the street alone at night.
INDIAN GOOSEBERRY RASAM
To be ground:
Indian gooseberries X 3 (large ones)
Ginger small piece (about an inch)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp fennel
1 tsp cumin
Medium sized tomato (Cut into chunky pieces)
Garlic X 3 if small or 1 if the clove is big (crushed)
Turmeric ¼ tsp
1 Lemon (medium sized – juiced)
Sea salt to taste
Corriander leaves for garnishing (chopped)
2 tsp gingelly oil/Indian sesame oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
Curry leaves (a stalk will do)
Dried red chilli x 1 (roughly torn into a few pieces)
Asofoetida/Hing – a pinch
- Remove seed from the gooseberries and grind it in a blender with the rest of the items under the heading “To be ground”
- Empty the contents from the blender into another container and add to it 500mls of water
- Now, in a claypot add the items that have been mixed and leave it to boil under medium flame for about 2-3 minutes
- It’s time to toss in the crushed garlic and tomatoes now. Add in the turmeric as well. Leave it to boil for another minute or 2
- You can now add in the juice from the lemon and again let it boil for a minute. Season with the right amount of salt and turn off the fire.
- It’s now time to do the tempering. In another small tempering ladle, add in the gingelly oil. Once oil is heated up, throw in the mustard seeds. Leave it to splutter.
- The spluttering will eventually die down. At this point toss in the torn red chilli, curry leaves and hing. Turn off the fire and empty the contents into the pot of rasam
- Garnish with chopped coriander leave and your dish is ready to be served.
Please feel free to adjust the tanginess of the dish by adding more lemon juice or if you want it less sour, then add more water. You can have this rasam with rice along with other sauteed vegetables. Enjoy 😊
This dish has got five tastes of the 6 tastes (shadrasa) described in ayurveda, except sweet. The five tastes are namely sour, salty pungent, bitter and astringent. These are the main tastes. However, sweet taste comes up as a post digestive effect (vipaka). Thus, this is a wholesome and almost complete dish. It is good for digestion and a good cleanser.
Mumtaz graduated with an Honours in Molecular Biology (Biochemistry) from (University of Aberdeen, Scotland) and has always been in the research industry. Her career has been revolving around scientific research in Neurodevelopment before she resigned her job to spend time with her husband and three children. She found her passion in ayurveda from her mother who has been doing all things natural following traditional medicine, which always worked. Because of her scientific background, she always had a questioning mind as to how ayurveda can be related to modern science and this led her on a mission to learn more about Ayurveda. That is when she found Ayurveda Association of Singapore (AAOS) where she is now learning in-depth about ayurveda principles (AFCC) and ayurveda nutrition (ANFC). These courses have given her the knowledge and inspiration to write articles on ayurveda herbs.