Black Pepper – The Black Gold
Native to South India, Pepper has played a very important role throughout history and has been a prized spice since ancient times.
Black pepper comes from the berries of the pepper plant. They are made by picking the pepper berries when they are half ripe and are left to dry which causes them to wither and becomes dark in colour. It is the most pungent and flavourful of all types of peppers and it is available as whole or cracked peppercorns or ground into powder.
Tale of Pepper
Since ancient Greece, pepper has held such high prestige that it was not only used as a seasoning but as a currency and a sacred offering. Pepper was used to both honour the gods and to pay taxes and ransoms. During the fall of ancient Rome, the invading barbarians were even honoured by being given black pepper. Additionally, in the middle ages the wealth of a man was oftentimes measured by his stockpile of pepper.
Pepper became an important spice that catalyzed much of the spice trade. This not only led to exploration of many undiscovered lands, but also to the development of major merchant cities in Europe and the Middle East.
Black pepper is the world’s most traded spice. Today, the major commercial producers of pepper are India and Indonesia.
Nurturing Pepper Plant
The plant is a perennial woody vine growing up to 4 metres in height on supporting trees, poles or trellises. It is a scattering vine, rooting readily where trailing stems touch the ground. The leaves are alternate, entire 5 to 10 cm long and 3 to 6 cm across.
The flowers are small, produced on droopy thorns 4 to 8 cm long at the leaf nodes, the thorns lengthening up to 7 to 15 cm as the fruit matures. The fruit of the black pepper is called a drupe and when dries it becomes peppercorn.
Pepper can be grown in soil that is moist, well drained and rich in organic matter. The plants are disseminated by cutting about 40 to 50 cms long, tied up to adjacent trees or climbing frames at distances of about 2 m apart.
Trees with rough bark are preferred over those with smooth bark, as the pepper plants climb rough bark more readily. Competing plants are cleared away, leaving only ample trees to provide shade and permit open aeration.
The roots are covered in leaf mulch and muck; the shoots are trimmed twice a year. On dry soils the young plants needs watering alternately during the dry season for the first three years.
The plants bear fruit from the fourth or fifth year, and typically continue to bear fruit for seven years.
The cuttings are usually cultivars, selected both for yield and for quality of fruit.
A single stem will bear 20 to 30 fruiting spikes. The harvest begins as soon as one or two fruits at the base of the spikes begin to turn red, and before the fruit is fully mature, and still hard; if allowed to ripen completely, the fruit lose pungency, and ultimately fall off and are lost.
The spikes are collected and spread out to dry in the sun, then the peppercorns are stripped off the spikes.
Black pepper is produced from the still-green, unripe drupes of the pepper plant. The drupes are ripe briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. The heat splits cell walls in the pepper, speeding the work of browning enzymes during drying.
The drupes are dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dried, the spice is called black peppercorn. On some estates, the berries are separated from the stem by hand and then sun-dried without the boiling process.
Once the peppercorns are dried, pepper spirit and oil can be extracted from the berries by crushing them.
Pepper spirit is used in many medicinal and beauty products. Pepper oil is also used as Ayurvedic massage oil and used in certain beauty and herbal treatments.
It is one of the most common spices added to European cuisine and its descendants. It is ever-present in the modern world as a seasoning and is often paired with salt.
The reason that pepper was so cherished is that it served important culinary purposes. Its pungency spice up and could disguise a food’s lack of freshness.
Black peppercorns can be used whole or in powdered form as the recipe demands. In crushed form it is widely used to flavour sandwiches, curds and yoghurts. In powdered form it is in soups, sauces, stocks and stews for that pungent zing.
In India, it is roasted and ground with other ingredients to make powders like garam masala, sambhar powder, rasam powder etc. and tempered with ghee in biryanis, pulaos, dals and curries.
Add pepper at the end of the cooking process. Since it loses its flavour and aroma if cooked for too long, adding it near the end will help to preserve its flavour.
Source of Nutrition
Black pepper is an exceptional source of manganese and vitamin K, a very good source of copper and dietary fibre, and a good source of iron, chromium, and calcium.
Dried ground pepper has been used since antiquity for both its flavour and as a traditional medicine.
Black pepper is not a commonly allergenic food and is not known to contain measurable amounts of oxalates or purines.
Black Pepper is extremely useful for respiratory disorders, asthma and upper respiratory infections such as uvulitis, recurrent sore throat, pharyngitis, and mouth diseases.
Black Pepper gives clarity to hoarse voices, removes bad breath, relieves from gaseous distension and indigestion. It also helps to cure the chronic headache, chronic dysentery.
Black pepper is also used in the weakness and loosening of the anal sphincter especially in case of piles.
Black pepper reduces itching and discharges through the wound when used in the form of local application on skin disorders.
Black pepper works as an antidote in the indigestion caused due to excessive intake of pure fats such as butter.
Black pepper stimulates the taste buds in such a way that an alert is sent to the stomach to increase hydrochloric acid secretion, thereby improving digestion. Hydrochloric acid is necessary for the digestion of proteins and other food components in the stomach.
Black pepper has long been recognized as a carminative, a property likely due to its beneficial effect of stimulating hydrochloric acid production and it has diaphoretic and diuretic properties.
Black pepper has demonstrated impressive antioxidant and antibacterial effects.
Black pepper help you derive the most benefit from your food; the outer layer of the peppercorn stimulates the breakdown of fat cells, keeping you slim while giving you energy to burn.