How hot is black pepper?

In this brief guide, we will answer the question “How hot is black pepper?”, discuss how black pepper works, and what are the health benefits of black pepper. Peppercorn is native to the tropical evergreen rain forest of India, from where it spread to the rest of the world through Indian and Arab traders.

How hot is black pepper?

Black pepper (P. nigrum) has a hotness 1,000 times lower than the ghost pepper which is considered the most pungent peppers known.

Black pepper is hot because of the presence of an alkaloid compound called piperine and is quantified to have a score of 100,000 Scoville units as compared to the ghost pepper, which has a score of 1,000,000 Scoville units (2).

Differently from chili pepper, the spiciness of black pepper doesn’t come from the capsaicin, rather it is from a chemical compound named piperine. According to studies, the P. nigrum fruit shows that it contains 4% alkaloids in the berry (3).

A Scoville unit is the number of times the alcoholic extract of the pepper has to be diluted to lose its pungency. The pepper Naga Jolokia, called Ghost pepper, is the most pungent pepper known and its extract has to be diluted one million times to lose its pungency. 

How hot is black pepper compared to other types of pepper?

Black pepper is less hot than other peppers, such as chili pepper, but is hotter than bell pepper. You can compare the pungency of black pepper with other types of peppers and pepper products below (2):

Pepper type or productScoville units
Sweet bell pepper0
Naga Jolokia1,000,000
Commercial pepper spray2,500,000
Police-grade pepper spray5,500,000

What factors affect the pungency of black pepper?

Many factors affect the level of pungency of black pepper, as follows:

  • The variety of the black pepper: black pepper is cultivated in several countries, and different cultivars and soil qualities may influence the pungency of the pepper
  • The processing: black pepper is the matured form of green peppercorn. The harvesting and drying steps can define the lower or higher lost of volatiles from the fruit
  • The form of the pepper: grinding black pepper lead to a faster reduction of the volatiles and the pungency of the pepper
  • Storage: the pungency may be lost during storage (6).
  • Cooking: studies report that piperine is degraded through thermal processing of black pepper. Cooking for 5 minutes reduced the piperine amount by 31% and the losses were greater for a lower pH value (7). 

How can you store black pepper to prevent pungency loss?

Black pepper and other spices should be stored in a glass container in a cool and dark place, safe from humidity and heat sources (such as electrical equipment) and protected from sunlight (5).

To take maximum advantage of black pepper regarding the health benefits, it is very important to store it in the best possible way. 

The best recommendation in this regard is to buy the whole peppercorn and get it crushed at home. Doing so will help you make sure that the spice retains its flavor, but also that it lasts longer. However, the essential oil of black pepper loses its flavor quickly upon storing under a normal room temperature (4).

Other FAQs about Pepper which you may be interested in.

How long does pepper last?

How to identify Pepper Plants?

Can you get sick from eating hot peppers ?

What are the health benefits of black pepper?

Black pepper, while used in cooking and garnishing in cuisines the world over, comes with lots of health benefits. Some of these health benefits are as follows:

  • Prevents cancer

The piperine present in black pepper is a potential source of preventing the consumer from cancer. When combined with turmeric, the results become twice potent. 

The presence of other antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, flavonoids, and carotenoids also help in removing free radicals and protect the body from cancers and other diseases. 

In in vivo studies, the active agent piperine prevented and inhibited lung metastasis and dramatically reduced tumor nodule formation. Moreover, piperine from P. nigrum reduced lung cancer by modulating lipid peroxidation and through the activation of antioxidative protection enzymes in melanoma cells (3).

  • Stimulate digestion

The piperine in black pepper also eases the digestion process and stimulates the stomach. The pungent compound of P. nigrum especially piperine, increases the production of saliva and gastric secretions. 

Furthermore, the ingestion of peppercorn increases the production and activation of salivary amylase. The digestive enzymes produced by the ingestion of black pepper probably stimulate the liver to secrete bile, which further digests food substances (3).

  • Relieves cold and cough

The essential oil of black pepper contains many antioxidant compounds. In the traditional medicine, black pepper helps to cure a cold and cough. It also helps to alleviate chest congestion, often caused due to pollution, flu, or a viral infection (4). A teaspoon of honey with freshly crushed black pepper does the trick!

  • Encourages weight loss

Black pepper is brilliant in extracting nutrients from the food. It contains phytonutrients in its outermost layer, which help to break down fat cells and also increase metabolism. A study reported that the supplementation of piperine with a high fat diet significantly reduced body weight and total cholesterol in high fat mice. Though control details were not reported (4).

  • Improves skin

Cosmoperine prepared from piperine used in cosmetics, a natural bioenhancer which improves the permeability of active compounds through skin. Cosmoperine activates and stimulates the natural power of skin to absorb nutrients (3).

  • Addresses depression

The piperine in black pepper also helps to deal with depression. It stimulates the brain and helps it to function properly by making it more active (3).


In this brief guide, we answered the question “How hot is black pepper?”, discussed how black pepper works, and what are the health benefits of black pepper.


  1. Nguegwouo, Evelyne, et al. Ochratoxin A in black pepper, white pepper and clove sold in Yaoundé (Cameroon) markets: contamination levels and consumers’ practices increasing health risk. Int J Food Contamin, 2018, 5, 1-7.
  2. Premkumar, Louis S. Transient receptor potential channels as targets for phytochemicals. ACS chem neurosci, 2014, 5, 1117-1130.
  3. Ahmad, Nisar, et al. Biological role of Piper nigrum L.(Black pepper): A review. Asian Pacific J Trop Biomed, 2012, 2, S1945-S1953.
  4. Ashokkumar, Kaliyaperumal, et al. Phytochemistry and therapeutic potential of black pepper [Piper nigrum (L.)] essential oil and piperine: A review. Clin Phytosci, 2021, 7, 1-11.
  5. Van Laanen, Peggy. Safe home food storage. Texas FARMER Collection. 2002.
  6. Azevedo, Marcelo, et al. Spiced risotto: Cooking processing and simulated in vitro digestion on curcuminoids, capsaicin and piperine. J Culin Sci Technol, 2019, 17, 256-267.
  7. Zachariah, T. John, and V. A. Parthasarathy. Black pepper. Chemistry of spices. Wallingford UK: CABI, 2008. 21-40.