Botanical Name: Piper nigrum

Family: Piperaceae

Hindi Name: Kali mirch

Black pepper is native to the Malabar coast in south India. This aromatic spice with an exotic flavour and a pungent odour is cultivated in the wilds of Myanmar and South India since Millennia. Two thousand years ago pepper reached Southeast Asia, and has been grown in Malaysia and Indonesia since then.

In the last few decades of the twentieth century, pepper production increased as new plantations were found in Thailand, Vietnam, China, the Philippines, East and West Indies, Brazil and Sri Lanka. This spice was prevalent in the Biblical times as well. Later, Arab traders established a pepper monopoly, and transferred the spice route through the Arab Peninsula and Egypt to European customers. Pepper was used abundantly by the Romans, and in the early Middle Ages, became a status symbol of fine cookery. While black and white pepper were already known in antiquity, the green and red pepper are a recent find. India and Indonesia together account for about 50 per cent of the whole production volume.

In trade, the pepper grades are identified by their origin. The most important Indian grades are Malabar and Tellicherry. The Malabar grade is the regular black pepper with a slightly greenish hue, while the Tellicherry grade is a special product. Both Indian black peppers are very automatic and pungent.

In the production of this spice that is known as the King of Spices, lndia has always resigned supreme in the production and export of this exotic and sought-after spice.

The compostion of the pepper is as follows:

  • Moisture: 8.7-14.1 %
  • Ether extract: 8.7-18%
  • Starch: 28-49%
  • Fibre: 8.7-18%
  • Ash: 3.9-5.7%

Pepper is unique in the spice world, as the pepper fruits are marketed in four different versions-they can be processed to give black, white, green and red peppercorns. By choosing the time of harvest and post-procession method carefully, all four types could, in principle, be produced from the same pepper plant. The most important source of the white pepper is the small Indonesian island, Bangka, south-east of Sumatra. These peppercorns are named Muntole after the island's main port. Smaller amounts of white pepper are produced in Sarawak, which is particularly light-coloured. There is also Brazil white pepper, but it has a poor flavour. Brazil produces black, white and green peppercorns. The pepper is grown along the Amazon river in the state of Para. Brazil black and white pepper are quite mild, and named after its main port, Belim.

Fully ripened peppercorns are used to make white pepper for which the outer hull-exocarp or mesocarp-must be removed. Note that the mesocarp not only contains sugar, but has also a part of the volatile aroma compounds. The pungency is located in the endocarp only. White pepper retains the full pungency of black pepper, but it has an altered flavour due to partial loss of aroma compounds. White pepper is mainly used in western cooking. It is often used in cream-based sauces where black pepper could spoil the colour. The pure, only mildly aromatic pungency of white pepper has become popular in Japan where it is often used in fried foods of sukiyaki style.

India offers green pepper in several processed forms, like frozen, dehydrated, freeze-dried and packed in brine. Brazil almost holds a monopoly for green pepper as the original production in Madagascar has declined. Green pepper is an early-harvested pepper, far from ripening, that is a processed in a way to exclude fermentation. Due to this unripeness, green pepper has only a slight pungency, and a fresh, herbal 'green' flavour. Fresh green pepper, which is not always to come by in Western countries, enjoys increasing popularity in pepper-producing countries, particularly in Thailand. It gives a great taste to Thai stir fries and can be used in Thai curry pastes. It is used in Western cooking in their mustard and bottled condiments. It is used for pepper steak and several sauces to accompany boiled or fried meats.

Pickled green peppercorns are often used as a spicy garnish to cold foods. Dried green peppercorns, with less pungency, are useful for delicate dishes. The red pepper is a rare commodity. It is considerably more pungent and aromatic than green pepper, and it combines the spicy, mature flavour of black pepper with the fresh taste of green pepper. Dried red peppercorns are even harder to find and are only produced in Kerala. Red pepper is more of an exotic curiosity than being useful.

In centuries past, long pepper, a close relative of black pepper from India, and cubeb pepper from Java, have been common in European cooking but have now fallen into oblivian there. They are still much in use in India and Northern Africa. Sichuan pepper from China and Japan, and pink pepper from South America have became popular in the last decades in 'Western cooking.

In Southeast Asia, the most reputed regions for black pepper are Sarawak in Malaysia and Lampong in Indonesia. The Lampong pepper is pretty hot while the Sarawak pepper is mild.

The pepper grown in other regions lack the complex aroma found in India and Malaysian cultivars. When the peppercorns turn yellow orange, and are picked then, such, pepper (black) is produced. Black pepper produced only in India in the Tellicherry district of Kerala. There corns are larger than the typical black ones, and are not so much black as dark brown.

For all purposes black pepper is preferred and used in almost all cuisines of the world. Black pepper is particularly popular for comparatively mild stews in the cuisine of the Royal Court. Vietnamese use black pepper in long-simmering soups. In Cambodia black pepper is part of the ubiquitous table condiment, tik marij, which is a mixture of lime juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Black pepper can be used in combination with other ingredients for nearly every kind of dish.

The combination of ripe strawberries and green pepper is almost a classic in European cooking. A pinch of pepper powder can be used for other mild fruits, to give it that exotic touch. High quality dark chocolate with a dash of black pepper has recently appeared in the European market.

Pepper is used in the Georgian khmeli suneli spice mixture. In India, the North Indian garam masala and the South Indian sambar and rasam powders include pepper.

Pepper is popular in Arab cooking and figures prominently in the spice mixtures. In the US, pepper is common in the Creol cuisine of New Orleans.

Pepper is much loved all over the world for spicy stews, steaks, sauces, vegetable dishes, salads and soups.

Sauce bearnaise. a celebrated French invention, owes part of its spicy flavour to black peppercorns simmered in vinegar. In Europe and Us, mixtures of coarsely ground black pepper with desiccated lemon juice are popular to flavour poultry and fish.

Pepper is aromatic, stimulant, carminative and febrifuge. It is useful in treating constipation, gonorrhoea, prolapsed rectum, indigestion, dyspepsia, flatulence, nausea, diarrhoea, cholera, scarlatiana, vertigo, paralytic and arthritic disorders.

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