Some know something about ME; some don’t know anything about ME… May be because I am tiny, or May be because I am Black in colour. That’s Okay. Let’s share our knowledge and learn from each other.

Organic_black-pepper11
This is a small riddle and you need to find me 😉

“I am black on the outside, attired in a crumpled cover,
Yet within I bear a scorching marrow.
I come in different colours, with unique pungent smell.
I flavour delicacies, the banquets of kings, and the luxuries of the table,
Both the sauces and the tenderized meats of the kitchen.
But you will find in me no quality of any worth,
unless your bowels have been rattled by my gleaming marrow”.

You are absolutely correct; I am “Pepper, Paprika, Melagu, Kali Mirch, Kali Miri, Miriyalu, Marica….” From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh, famous by diverse titles with respect to region and language. The word “pepper” has its roots in the Dravidian word for long pepper, “Pippali”. Ancient Greek and Latin turned “Pippali” into the Latin “Piper”. The Latin word is also the source of Romanian piper, Italian pepe, Dutch peper, German Pfeffer, French poivre, and other similar forms. In the 16th century, “Pepper” was used in a symbolic sense to mean “spirit” or “energy”.

Commonly referred as the “king of spices”, Black pepper has a long history of being used as a seasoning, a preservative and even as a medicine. By far world’s most traded and frequently used spice; pepper adds an excellent depth of flavour to nearly any savoury dish, and many sweet dishes as well. It is one of the most common spices added to European cuisine and its descendants.

Black, white, and green peppercorns all come from the same vine. They grow in clusters, and are harvested in various stages of growth. The spiciness of black pepper is due to the chemical piperine. The black peppercorns are left on the vine to fully mature and develop a stronger flavour profile. Green peppercorns are young when they are picked and dehydrated, with a resulting mild flavour. White peppercorns are actually black peppercorns, which have been soaked to remove the outer casing. This gives the white peppercorns a more intense flavour, with a slightly fermented taste and smell from the soaking process.

Presently Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing 34% of the world’s total production. History reveals that, “Black pepper is native to South East Asia, especially Malabar Coast of southern India, and is extensively cultivated there”. Peppercorns are not only the oldest used spice, but also the most widely-used. The epic Mahabharata written in the 4th century BC describes feasts with meat sprinkled with pepper. Pepper was of great value as a traditional medicine and was featured in early medicinal documents such as the Susrutha Samhita.

Said to be found more than 4,000 years ago, peppercorns were cultivated as long ago as 1000 B.C. It was referred as “Black Gold” and often used as a form of money. The legacy of this trade remains in some Western legal systems which recognize the term “peppercorn rent” as a form of a token payment made for something that is in fact being given.

Previous to 16th century, pepper was being cultivated in Java, Sunda, Sumatra, Madagascar, Malaysia, and everywhere in Southeast Asia. These areas traded mainly with China, or used the pepper locally. Ports in the Malabar area also served as a stop-off point for much of the trade in other spices from farther east in the Indian Ocean. Following the British hegemony in India, virtually all of the black pepper found in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa was traded from Malabar region. Pepper was considered so valuable that unscrupulous suppliers often mixed in mustard husks, juniper berries, and even floor sweepings and ground charcoal to stretch its value. In 1875, the British Sale of Food and Drugs Law imposed restrictions against the selling of adulterated pepper.

Although always prized as a flavour-enhancing spice, the peppercorn first gained recognition for medicinal purposes as a digestive stimulant. Its hot flavour causes the skin inside the nose and throat to ooze a lubricating secretion, helpful to those in respiratory distress as an aid to cough up offending phlegm and mucus. Pepper was also used in an external ointment to relieve skin afflictions and hives. Black pepper is also an effective deterrent to insects. Once the peppercorns are dried, pepper spirit & 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 in certain beauty and herbal treatments.

Scientifically, Black pepper has long been documented as a carminative, (a substance that helps prevent the formation of intestinal gas), a property likely due to its beneficial effect of stimulating hydrochloric acid production. In addition, black pepper has diaphoretic (promotes sweating), and diuretic (promotes urination) properties. Black pepper has proved as an impressive antioxidant and antibacterial effects. Black pepper is an excellent source of manganese, a very good source of iron and vitamin K, and a good source of dietary fibre and copper.
A recent study at University of Michigan Cancer Centre reveals that, little pepper may go a long way with your health—it might even help ward off breast cancer. A chemical compound in peppercorns called piperine may be able to help prevent a breast cancer tumour from developing. Pepper’s potential cancer-preventing properties are heightened when it’s paired with turmeric.

In today’s era, where we all are diet and health conscious, it is important, not only to have a check on the quantity of the food consumed but also the quality of food taken in. It’s time we have little more knowledge about the food, the ingredients inside them, their origin and benefits, and learn to appreciate and enjoy it in every sense possible.

For further reading:
http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/pepperhistory.htm
http://www.coleandmason.com/history-of-pepper.aspx
http://www.indianspices.com/html/spices_board_spfarming_blpepper.htm
http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20447914,00.html
http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/pepper-prices-may-marginally-decline-in-futures-market-study/article4181761.ece

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