Black pepper, when finely ground, may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age.
Black pepper is made from the tiny fruits of Piper nigrum, a plant with origins in South Asia. The little stone fruits are fermented, cooked, and dried until their skins have shriveled. The resulting peppercorns may be black, green, or white depending on how the fruits are processed. Piper nigrum has an ancient history as a culinary spice and an early preservative—its anti-microbial properties and pungent flavor are the result of a special chemical in the spice called piperine. Today, black pepper is one of the most common seasonings worldwide and a key ingredient in spice blends like baharat, garam masala, jerk seasoning, and ras el hanout.
Maya, 7 months, eats salmon with black pepper.
Mila, 9 months, eats finely ground black pepper on egg muffins.
Sebastián, 13 months, sprinkles ground black pepper on hard-boiled eggs.
Yes. While usually not consumed in nutritionally significant amounts, black pepper offers trace amounts of vitamins A, C, E, as well as other important vitamins and minerals. One of its compounds, piperine, may help our bodies absorb iron and calcium when the two are eaten together. Plus, black pepper offers many other benefits, including protecting cells with its antioxidant, antitumor, and antibacterial properties.
★Tip: Storing black pepper away from sunlight helps retain its flavor.
No, ground pepper does not pose a choking risk, although whole peppercorns could pose an aspiration risk. To minimize the risk, remove any whole peppercorns from a dish before serving to baby. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
No. Allergies to black pepper are rare, but have been reported. If your child has other food allergies, read the label of any spice blend carefully; certain spice blends that feature black pepper may contain common food allergens, such as nuts or sesame seed. Some specialty pepper blends also include pink peppercorn in addition to black and white peppercorns – this can cause cross-reactive allergy for individuals with cashew or pistachio allergy. Individuals with Oral Allergy Syndrome, particularly those who are allergic to mugwort pollen or celery, may be sensitive to multiple spices, including black pepper. This is known as mugwort-celery-spice syndrome. Oral Allergy Syndrome typically results in short-lived itching, tingling, or burning in the mouth and is unlikely to result in a dangerous reaction.
Even though black pepper allergy is uncommon, spices can cause symptoms that are similar to allergic reactions. For example, inhaling a puff of powdered black pepper can irritate the nasal passages and trigger sneezing and coughing due to an irritant response, rather than an allergic reaction. Additionally, certain spices, like black pepper, may cause contact rashes due to potentially skin-irritating components in the food.
It is common for babies to develop a rash around their mouths after eating spicy foods such as black pepper. A rash around the mouth after contact with spicy foods is typically just a skin irritation and is rarely an actual allergic reaction. Spicy foods like black pepper may also cause or worsen diaper rash. As black pepper is generally used in very small quantities, the risk of a severe contact rash is low. If your baby has sensitive skin, talk to your baby’s doctor about applying a thin layer of barrier cream or ointment—such as pure petroleum jelly or a plant-based oil/wax balm—to baby’s face and diaper area. This layer of protection will help prevent contact rashes by serving as a barrier between the skin and the potentially irritating components of food.
As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first few servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.
Yes. Black pepper is generally recognized as safe by the United States Food & Drug Administration when used in amounts typical in cooking.While black pepper is used medicinally in certain parts of the world, there is limited research on the safety of these black pepper supplements and essential oils for babies, so avoid serving these forms of the spice.
No. Black pepper is not generally considered a food that helps with pooping since it is consumed in small amounts in the diet. However, spices like black pepper help play a role in supporting baby’s rapidly developing gut microbiome (the bacteria and microorganisms in baby’s intestines), which can help with healthy digestion overall. Remember that pooping patterns can vary significantly from baby to baby. If you have concerns about baby’s pooping and digestive function, check out our page on knowing when to worry about baby’s poop and, as always, talk to your pediatric healthcare provider.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience.
Once a food has been introduced and baby understands the taste of that particular food, sprinkle a scant amount of finely ground black pepper on it while baby is watching. As you sprinkle, say, “This is pepper, and it has a BIG flavor.” The order of this introduction is important as you don’t want baby thinking the food itself is peppery, but rather, the flavor comes from what you are adding to it. Stick with just a tiny amount of black pepper at first because if you inadvertently overdo it, baby may reject the food it was served on for months to come.
Contrary to popular belief, babies can have big flavors from spices and other foods as soon as they start solids. Just keep the amounts small so that baby can get used to a spice’s assertive taste and so they can experience the flavor of the rest of the dish.
Cook with finely ground black pepper and add to the child’s meals as desired. Flavor meat, vegetable, and grain dishes with ground pepper, complement sweet foods with a sprinkle of the spice, or experiment with spice blends that contain black pepper. As the toddler approaches age 2, offer a tiny bowl of ground black pepper for them to sprinkle on their own food as a way to engage them in the meal. Just be prepared for them to dump the whole thing on their food so only put in as much pepper as you think would be okay dumped on the food.
Get ideas to mix up your meal plans with our Recipe & Meal Kit.
Pediatrician & pediatric gastroenterologist
Pediatrician & pediatric allergist/immunologist
Pediatric occupational therapist, feeding & swallowing specialist, international board-certified lactation consultant
Speech-language pathologist, feeding & swallowing specialist
Pediatric registered dietitian & nutritionist
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