Does Pepper Preserve Food?

Did you know ancient Egyptians used that pepper as part of the embalming process? Although pepper was more commonly used as a food flavoring than a preservative, the anti-microbial chemicals in peppercorns were regarded as a precious ingredient in ritually preserving royalty.

Pepper contains some anti-microbial and antioxidant properties, which slow down food spoilage. While it cannot be used as a standalone preservative like salt or sugar, adding pepper to preserved food marginally increases shelf life.

Piperine is the hot anti-microbial chemical that gives black pepper its distinctive taste. It is highly volatile, and exposure to air reduces the amount of piperine in the spice. That is why black peppercorns are commonly freshly ground over food to provide the most robust taste.

Although plenty of sites claim that pepper can be used as a preservative, scientific sources only list the valuable black gold as a food flavoring. The amount of anti-microbial chemicals in peppercorns is too minimal to preserve food effectively.

The amount of pepper required to have any notable preservative effect would overwhelm the taste of the food. However, there is no doubt that when used with salt as a rub for meat or fish, pepper’s hot, aromatic qualities add a delightful dimension to the preservation process.

It is safe to say that while pepper does have beneficial properties, it should not be used as a preservative on its own. Adding peppercorns to pickles and jams adds a hot taste profile to the recipes, but these foods rely on other ingredients, like vinegar, sugar, or salt, to be safely preserved.

How Long Does Pepper Last?

When whole peppercorns are stored in a sealed container in a dark, cool space, they can last up to three years. However, the quality deteriorates over time, and pepper can lose its distinctive, aromatic heat.

Ground pepper deteriorates quickly when exposed to air and will only taste ‘peppery’ for around four months. Pepper remains safe to eat long past its expiry date, as the date provided only indicates the best-before date.

If pepper is stored in a cool, dark place and protected from moisture which could cause the peppercorns to become rancid, it will remain perfectly safe to eat for years. However, the taste will become increasingly mild over time.

What Spices Can Preserve Food?

Black pepper on its own is not an effective method of preserving food. Although it does have some anti-microbial properties, the amount needed to have an effect would overpower the taste of the food.

Salt is most commonly used as a preservative but is considered a mineral rather than a spice. Spices with strong preservative qualities include mustard, cinnamon, and cloves. Other spicy preservatives include garlic, rosemary, and coriander.

Each spice tends to have targeted benefits and predominantly has either antibacterial or antifungal properties. While many do have some effect on slowing down food spoilage, spices should never be relied on to preserve food in the same manner as an all-purpose preservative agent like salt.

How Do You Preserve Pepper?

Commercially packed, whole black peppercorns never truly spoil, but they can lose their distinctive taste and aroma over time. To keep pepper tasting hot, zesty, and fresh for as long as possible, whole peppercorns should be sealed in a glass container and kept in a cool, dark pantry or cupboard.

Only powder the amount of pepper you need, as ground pepper quickly loses its efficacy when exposed to air. Ground pepper will remain fresher for longer if it is stored frozen in an airtight container.


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