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All About Black Pepper Essential Oil

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All About Black Pepper Essential Oil Martin Harvey / Getty Images

Introduction:

For a spice that is the third most prevalent ingredient of any recipe (the others are water and salt), and one that has been used for thousands of years across the continents, the essential oil extracted from black pepper is not at all well known or widely used in soap and candle making. Alas, it's most likely due to its price; most soap making suppliers price it at over $150 a pound...but if you can find some on sale, or score a sample somewhere, just a little bit can add an exotic complexity to your soap and candle essential oil blends.

Scientific Name for Black Pepper:

Primarily piper nigrum

Black Pepper in History:

With its origins in India, black pepper has been a part of human life, both as a seasoning and as medicine, for thousands of years. It has been found in the nostrils of ancient mummies, and was a key commodity on trade routes through Greece, Rome and Asia. It was such a valuable commodity that it was often even for collateral or even currency. Today, pepper is still the most widely traded spice in the world.

Black Pepper Essential Oil Smells Like:

Black pepper essential oil has a surprising scent - quite different from the ground spice in your cabinet. If you know it's pepper, you can relate the scent to the peppercorns, but without that association, the essential oil has a much warmer, woodier scent. It's definitely spicy, but in a sophisticated and complex manner. It has a spiciness like clove, a crispness like rosemary, and a woodiness like cedarwood.

Black Essential Oil Blends Well With:

Black pepper blends well with most essential oils - from citrus, spice and floral. I especially like it with bergamot, clary sage, rosemary, grapefruit, cedarwood and lavender.

Black Pepper Essential Oil Safety:

Spice essential oils generally need to be respected for their tendency to become "sensitizing, but black pepper is generally accepted as safe. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless, lists peppermint essential oil as generally "non-toxic, non-sensitizing, irritant in high concentration due to rubefacient qualities. Use in moderation only."

Primarily From:

Black pepper essential oil is steam distilled from the dried whole peppercorns that are picked once they turn black, but haven't fully ripened.The plant that the peppercorns come from is a perennial woody vine with heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers. The berries start out red, but as they mature, turn black. It has about a 2% yield (actually pretty good for an essential oil!) which means that every pound of peppercorns yields about a third of an ounce of essential oil.

Black pepper is native to south-west India. It is largely produced in India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, and China. It is also distilled in Europe and the United States, from imported dried fruit.

Blends that Use Black Pepper:

Unless you have an extravagant soap and candle supply budget, black pepper is likely too expensive to use alone in a soap recipe. But it's a wonderful addition to blends. Because it's so rarely used, it's not as readily identifiable as more common essential oils like the ubiquitous and readily identifiable lavender or eucalyptus.

In blends, it's a middle note - confident and strong. And like other middle notes, seems to position itself in relation to the other essential oils in the blend. Next to a sweet, round floral, it is spicy and crisp. Next to crisp, camphoraceous rosemary, it's warm and woody. I love it with citrus oils - and similarly, the aspects of black pepper that come through strongest depends on what it is placed up against.

Here are some blends that I really like:

Crisp and Masculine
This blend, which I used in my 100% coconut oil soap with a 20% superfat, is crisp and almost medicinal - in a good way. The woodsy, camphoraceous notes of each of the oils blend well together.

  • 2 parts cedarwood
  • 2 parts rosemary
  • 2 parts lavender
  • 1 part black pepper
Exotic Orange
The orange is the main player in this blend, but the other oils give it some foundation and some complexity.
  • 3 parts orange
  • 1 part clove
  • 1 part black pepper
  • 1/2 part litsea cubea
Floral Surprise
This blend starts out very sweet and floral, but then the other notes dance around with the floral notes and make it more exotic and compelling.
  • 2 parts ylang ylang
  • 2 parts lavender
  • 2 parts patchouli
  • 1 part grapefruit
  • 1 part black pepper
Green Adventure
This blend is very green, but has a depth to it.
  • 2 parts clary sage
  • 2 parts lavender
  • 2 parts cedarwood
  • 1 part black pepper

In Summary:

In summary, like I said, not a lot of soap and candle makers get to use black pepper due to its high cost. But I encourage you to at least smell it, if not experiment with it if you have the chance. My experiments with it have given me ideas for how to use oils that have similar aspects - like rosemary, clove and cedarwood - and prompted me to create new blends.

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