The ‘King of Spices- Pepper’, is one such humble condiment that has captured the globe with its pungent and hot flavor. Seasoning it on any cuisine clearly adds a kick to these dishes and makes them stand out in the crowd of alike food items. Once used as a currency, Pepper is wrapped up in quite an interesting history that adds to its stature.
Backpedaling in Time
Piper Nigrum or Pepper is a spice that is indigenous to Kerala in Southwest India. The word Pepper comes from a Sanskrit word ‘Pippali’, which means ‘Berry’. From India, this spice embarked on an endless voyage to the rest of the world.
Archaeologists opine that there was some kind of pepper trade between India and Egypt as the spice was used for the mummification process of the Great King Ramses. During earlier times, the city of Alexandria in Egypt started to be known as the ‘Pepper Gate’ city due to its emergence as an important spice trading port.
Pepper has always been a priced commodity. In Apicius, ‘Cooking and Dining in Imperial Home’, about 80% of the recipes prepared, contained this aromatic spice. When Rome was attacked in 410 AD, to stop the ransacking of the city, the Romans gave three thousand pounds of pepper along with gold, silver, silk, and what not!!
It is believed that pepper was used in the Middle Ages to hide the taste of rotten meat. It’s excessively high price and Italy’s monopoly in trade, induced the Portuguese to come to India, the hub of these spices at the time.
Pepper is a labor-intensive product and is cultivated across the world with Vietnam producing as much as 35% of the total supply, while India, China, Brazil, and Sri Lanka contribute the rest. It accounts for almost one-fifth of the world’s spice trade. Pepper comes in different colors but they all originate from the same plant. This color variation mainly depends upon how ripe the pepper is and how it has been processed.
India and the King of Spice
India exports and imports a significant amount of this condiment to the world. The spice is usually sown in May-June and harvested between December to February. Kodagu, North Kanara, South Kanara, and Shimoga are the major districts in Karnataka that produce peppercorn.
One of the hottest peppers known in the world is the Ghost Pepper, also known as Bhut Jolokia, that is found in north- eastern India and neighbouring Bangladesh. This fiery little spice also finds mention in the Guinness Book of World Record for the world’s hottest pepper in 2006!
Pepper is grown in different types of soils such as red loam, sandy loam, clay loam, and lateritic soils with adequate humidity. A well-distributed rainfall of about 1000-3000 mm is necessary for the growth of the pepper plant. Higher precipitation is seen as an added advantage as it protects the plant from diseases.
Pepper and its Piquancy
Pepper is a fiery spice and this is because of the presence of Capsaicin, a chemical found in the condiment that is both colorless, and odorless. This chemical not just makes the dish more inviting but is also used in the making of ‘Pepper Spray’.
Pepper contains another element called Piperine, a chemical that gives a certain pungency to this spice. However, the amount of piperine varies considerably. It has a long history of use in some or the other types of traditional medicines. In fact, it has been found that this chemical contains anti-mutagenic and anti-tumor influences too.
Heterogeneity of the Black Gold
Needless to say, pepper has as much as half a dozen varieties, each harvested in different ways. Most commonly seen are the Black and White peppercorns that are actually the berries of the Piper Nigrum plant. While the Indian spice box is always intact with the black one, white pepper is important too!
The ruling difference lies in the way they are processed. Primarily, black pepper (also known as the Black Gold) contains the outer layer which gives it a deep color, while this layer is removed in white pepper. If you don’t have a fiery palette to cater to, then White Pepper is the best.
Apparently, black pepper is used more than white ones in dishes that are already colorful in which they just blend in. They also have more flavor notes than white ones. The Black Gold accounts for about 50% of an average restaurant’s spice usage. White pepper is considered great in white sauces and is a must for soups, and mashed potatoes. They work as taste boosters in Thai and Chinese cuisines too!
Whatever the case may be, everyone knows that pepper tastes great on appropriate cuisines. But a passing thought may come as to what it can do for us apart from seasoning the dish!! Well, there is more to it than just those pungent and exotic aroma that they possess. The two of the variants referred to in the previous paras are endowed with a lot of health benefits that many of us may not be aware of.
Black pepper aids in weight loss and boosts metabolism. It reduces the risk of cancer when used with turmeric. The problem of constipation can be solved by adding spice in everyday food. This Black Gold holds a medium amount of manganese, iron, and Vitamin C with a certain quantity of other dietary fiber, protein, and nutrients beneficial to the body. They are helpful in joint pain. Pepper assists in treating respiratory diseases too.
One of the biggest problems that is growing worldwide is depression. The extreme mood and low-key profile that a person develops over a period of time can lead to serious consequences, including the death of the person concerned. Studies show that giving raw pepper to a depressed being can change their mood. This is because the raw particles release mood-inducing chemicals and keep the mind calm and soothing.
Talking about the cousin of black pepper, the virtue of white pepper is no less. It contains fewer calories and a great flavor that induces less use of salt in the dish. They work wonders for people who suffer from loss of appetite and lead to healthy gout. They are a superb scrub and exfoliating element for the skin. It is seen that a regular intake of pepper protects the body from cardiovascular diseases.
White pepper’s essential oil is advocated in aromatherapy. They even help with Arthritis pain. It is useful in improving cognitive brain function and prevents the degeneration of blood cells. It is found that when taken with boiled eggs, they help in improving the stamina of the body. This is greatly beneficial for the people who are into sports or other physical activities and require higher stamina and energy. Blessed with minerals like manganese, copper, and magnesium, the miraculous spice also strengthens the bone.
This powerhouse of vitamins and minerals has a list of culinary and therapeutic use which is overwhelmingly exhaustive. This has greatly led to them being an indispensable ingredient in every kitchen.
With changing times and the ever-evolving food trends, this amazing spice has now ventured into desserts too. From ice-creams and pastries to frostings and confectionaries and other winter specials like sonth ke ladoo, prudent use of pepper takes the dish to the next level. Masala Chai along with ginger, cardamom, and other ingredients also gets a boost by the use of this fiery spice. So, the next time you wish to prepare a cuisine or a dessert with a drool-worthy effect, don’t forget to give the King of Spice its due place!!