A peppery crystal structure – Peperine

What does it look like?

Image generated by the VESTA (Visualisation for Electronic and STructual analysis) software http://jp-minerals.org/vesta/en/

Image generated by the VESTA (Visualisation for Electronic and STructual analysis) software http://jp-minerals.org/vesta/en/

What is it?

Picture of piperine crystals extracted from black pepper (Piper nigrum) - recrystallized from acetone

Picture of piperine crystals extracted from black pepper (Piper nigrum) – recrystallized from acetone

You’ll find this molecule on nearly every dinner table in the country. This is a material that tingles on your tongue and can make you sneeze. This is Peperine, the active molecule found in pepper.  You can actually isolate this from pepper, and grow milky crystals like the ones pictured.

Peperine is from a family of relatively simple molecules, called alkaloids, which contain nitrogen atoms – and are almost uniformly bitter in taste.  Though it looks from the picture of the crystal structure above that the molecules here pack flat – when you look from the side there a lovely wave to this arrangement, which is quite common in molecular packing.

Where did the structure come from?

The structure of Piperine was discovered by Grynpas and Lindley in 1975.

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