Pepper (Piper nigrum)
Pepper is sometimes been referred to as the king of spices and is one of the most popular seasonings throughout the world. Peppercorns are the berries of pepper vines which can either be black, green or white depending upon when they are harvested or different methods of curing and drying. Pepper is consumed fresh, dried or ground.
Green peppercorns are commonly dried in the sun and raked daily until they are wrinkled and black. The flavour is rich, hot and biting with a clean aftertaste.
Green, immature berries are available fresh on the steam or pickled in brine or vinegar or freeze dried. They are light in flavour, with a fresh, strong taste and are not as hot as black peppercorns.
Are made from berries that are packed in sacks and soaked slowly running water for 1-2 weeks to loosen the outer skin. The berries are then rubbed and the husk is removed. White peppercorns are less rich with a sweet aftertaste.
Black peppercorns have a strong, earthy aroma with woody, lemon-like undertones.
Green peppercorns have a light, bright, lively aroma.
The white variety have a mild, musty aroma.
Black and white peppercorns lose their flavour and aroma when ground so it’s best to buy whole corns and grind as required.
Pepper can be used in basically everything and anything as it has the ability to enhance other flavours. Pepper can be used to flavour stocks, marinades, meats, pies, sauces, vinegars, casseroles, stews and even fruit cakes. Pepper pairs with basil, garlic, oregano, rosemary, salt, cheese, egg and also fruits such as strawberries, figs and pineapple.
Pepper is grown on vines which can be propagated by seeds or cuttings. They are best grown in a warm, humid climate in the shade as they are originally a rainforest plant. The vines are best grown on trellises or poles in rich, composted soil and pruned often to make harvesting easier. After 3-5 years the plant will produce white flowers which turn into seed spikes which may produce 50 or more peppercorns.
Pepper is native to South Asia and Southeast Asian with most of its source being India’s Malabar Coast. It was discovered in 327 BC by Alexander the Great after he invaded Indian and its popularity, rarity and its ability to preserve meats made it highly sort after and more valuable than gold. The spice trade and race saw explorers like Marco Polo, Magellan and Columbus search the globe in the quest for pepper.
In the Middle Ages, pepper was considered currency and was used to pay rents, dowries and taxes. The term ‘peppercorn rent’ meant that the payment was made in full.
Pepper is now grown in Thailand, India, Brazil, Malaysia and Vietnam and although it is now much more affordable for consumers, it is still the most important spice in volume and value.
Pepper has been recognised as an appetite stimulant and for its ability to aid nausea and digestion. Throughout history it has been used to cure illnesses such as constipation, earache, gangrene, sunburn and toothaches.
Pepper can also help congeal the blood and stop small cuts from bleeding.
Facts about Pepper
The name pepper comes from the ancient Indian word pippali meaning berry.
Other forms of pepper include:
This was popular in history however it is difficult to find now. It has a similar, but hotter, taste to regular pepper.
Contrary to its name, this is not part of the pepper family as the berry is from the prickly ash tree. It is one of the main spices in Chinese Five Spice.
Red or Pink Peppercorns
Ripe, red peppercorns from the Peruvian peppertree are preserved in brine or vinegar. The outer shell has a sweet, delicate, fruit-like taste and the core provides a moderate heat.
Can pepper be used as an insect deterrent?
Peppercorns can be used to deter insects when sprinkled in garden beds or stored with seeds. White pepper can also be dusted onto cabbages to eliminate caterpillars.