Pepper - The
by Eileen Troemel
I reside in
Janesville, Wisconsin (near Madison). By day I work as a clerical
worker and at night I spend my spare time
writing. Writing is my way of expressing my
feelings about my world and life. Raised on
a farm, I have a love for nature and am
inspired by the beauty and power I find
there. I've been married for 27 years and
have three adult daughters. Some of my other
interests include cooking, genealogy,
reading, and crocheting.
Along with salt, pepper is
on nearly every table. Historically significant, pepper
is the most common spice in use. Nutritionally
beneficial and medicinally positive, pepper offers a
unique flavor and a variety of uses. It is the third
most common ingredient behind water and salt.
There are a variety of peppercorns commonly used.
This master spice is
versatile in all forms. It offers up a vibrant
flavor suitable for any dish. Historically, it has led
an illustrious and full life giving fortune and
paying ransoms. Pepper is used daily by most
people and offers health benefits along with adding its
flavor. Reach for that pepper shaker or grinder
and enjoy all the benefits it has to offer!
nigrum) ground for use on the table and in cooking
originally only came from India, but is now also
cultivated in Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka,
Madagascar, and South America. India is
still the major producer of this spice with over half of
the product coming from there.
bush, which often grows wild, is produced in mounds with
trellises similar to grape vines. These
mounds are usually about 8-feet tall but the
bush itself can grow up to 33 feet in the proper
climate. The bush has a round and smooth
jointed stem; dark green leaves which are smooth, broad,
and have seven nerves in them; and small white
flowers. The flowers become the berries which are
harvested. The flowers grow in clusters of up to 150.
Grown from cuttings, the bush bears fruit at three
to four years until about fifteen years. Typically the pepper bush grows within about 20 degrees
of the equator6 some believe the closer to
the equator the hotter the peppercorn.
From this bush, three
types of peppercorn are harvested: black, green, and
white. The difference in the peppercorns come from when
the berry of the bush is harvested and how it is
Black peppercorns are the
dried berry and the most pungent and strongest in flavor
of the three. The berries are picked just before they
are ripe and are typically sun dried. As they dry, an
enzyme is released which darkens the hull of the berry
to anywhere from dark brown to jet black.
Within the hull is a lighter seed which causes a
variance in the color of the ground pepper.
Black pepper comes in many forms;
whole, cracked, and ground. The ground pepper has
varying degrees of coarseness from fine to coarse.
Some of the uses are as follows:
in whole form for pickling and stocks
cracked for meats and salads
ground for everything else
Currently the Tellicherry pepper is the most
popular. It is named after the port and region it is
gathered from. It is the oldest source of black pepper,
though Alleppey and Pandjung are also long time ports
for the export of this spice. The
Tellicherry peppercorn is larger and darker than others.
It has a more complex flavor which is why it is more
Tellicherry and Malabar
come from the same region in Southwest India. The
Tellicherry is picked slightly closer to being ripe and
is considered to be slightly better than the Malabar.
Malabar has a green hue with a strong flavor.
Green peppercorns are the
green berry picked long before they are ripe, which can
be freeze-dried to preserve the smooth texture and
bright color. While the green peppercorn gives a strong
tart punch of flavor to begin with, it does not linger
long in the mouth. These can also be
pickled for shipment. The berries for the green and
black peppercorns are actually picked at about the same
time but the green are not allowed to dry causing which
prevents that enzyme from activating. Green peppers
only come packed in brine, water, or freeze-dried. Some of the uses are as follows:
The United States is one
of the largest consumers of black pepper and has a much
higher demand for the black pepper compared to white
pepper. However, Europeans prefer the white pepper over
This peppercorn is the
mature berries that are given a short water bath in
order to remove the husks before the remaining seed is
sun-dried. The removal of the husk
the dark color forming during the drying process. As
the berry ripens, it becomes a bright red color. During the drying process, it becomes white.7 A second way for the white pepper to be harvested is to
harvest the green berry, soak it for several days before
rubbing off the outer layer. The remaining seed is then
either dried for use whole or ground. This
pepper has a long drawn out flavor which lingers.
White pepper has two forms: whole and ground.10 Generally white is preferred over black
for any dish where the pepper might show like some of
the following uses:
These are rare and
difficult to find, particularly in the United States. They are the
red berries ripened on the vine. Instead of picking the
berries, they are harvested with part of the vine. These
are best used within a very short period of time. The
red peppercorn has a sweet and mellow flavor in contrast
to the pungent strong flavor of the black.
Since these are rare in the United States, most
recipes calling for red pepper are referring to ground cayenne or
A rare find, this is
created from the red berries of the piper nigrum and are
preserved in a brine. These are too soft to grind so are
often put into a recipe whole. The best dishes to use
these in are egg dishes and salads.14
Blends and Combinations:
Blending the three types
of pepper doesn't really enhance the flavors; however,
there are two blends which can work nicely. Black and
green combined add a bit more bite to a dish. Black and
white combined makes the flavor linger longer. If pink
peppercorns (see below), as opposed to the pink peppercorns
(piper nigrum family) is added to a combination, its
flavor is easily overpowered.
Blends of different kinds
of peppercorns are typically called medleys.
|Peppercorns can also be
blended with other products like garlic, coriander,
lemon, shallot, and chipotle.12 Many people
have had lemon pepper chicken or fish, the main spice in
those dishes come from a combination of lemon and
There are several
varieties of peppercorns which are do not belong to the
piper nigrum family. These come from a several
different types of plants. The flavors of these are
different from the piper nigrum plant so should
not be used as a substitute. Some are as follows:
Long pepper (piper longum) originates in central Africa but is now
in India, Africa, and Eastern China. This is
harvested in summer. The bud fruit is about an inch
long and consists of lots of tiny black and gray seeds. The taste is like a mild pepper and ginger combination. This was commonly used during the Middle Ages. This one
can substitute for common pepper and is best used in
sweet hot recipes accenting the ginger flavor. Some
suggestions for use are on fruit (particularly fresh) or
in coleslaw, this prevents the flavor from being cooked
Pink peppercorns (shinus molle) is grown in
Madagascar, Mexico and Australia. The pale pink berries
are harvested in the summer. Initially this has a pepper
flavor but ends tasting sweet. It is good
for vegetables12 and seafoods and is not a
good replacement for regular pepper. This
can cause an allergic reaction in children so follow the
recipe precisely. The schinus terebinthifolius species
is also used as a pink pepper. The plant looks similar
to a holly tree and is grows in parts of the US like the
shinus molle. There is an additional pink
peppercorn which comes from the Baies rose plant
(euonymus phellomanus) which is also from Madagascar.
Pink peppercorns (shinus
molle) is grown in Madagascar, Mexico, and Australia.
Sichuan or Szechuan
pepper is found commonly in China and used in many
Chinese and Japanese dishes, but also adds a zing to
chicken noodle soup.12 The pepper derives
from the berries of a prickly Ash tree native to China. These are more spicy than the regular pepper.
Negro Pepper (xylopia
aethiopica) is grown in Ghana and Malawe. This one is
harvested in the fall and when dried has dark brown seed
pods. Like the piper nigrum, it is fruit which is dried
in the sun. Also similar to piper nigrum, this has a
strong flavor but it leaves a bitter after taste so is
not a good substitute for regular pepper.
sanctum) is cultivated in Peru and Argentina. The
leaves are harvested year round. The green leaf is
plucked from a bush which is in the pepper family. It
is very similar to cilantro and best used fresh. It has
a little bite but mellows to a sweeter flavor.
Like salt, this spice has
a long and illustrious past. It has been popular for
more than 4000 years; cultivation of pepper began about
Pepper was actually the
first spice used in Europe15 and helped to
motivate the Spanish, English, and Dutch to find trade
routes to India. It helped develop the
relations among East, West, and Middle East countries.
This spice was a luxury and only used by the upper
class up until the early 1800s before average citizens
could afford to use this spice. This spice is so
valuable that even in some parts of Asia, poorer families hold peppercorns as a type of
The spice dates back much
further than these somewhat modern trade routes though. It was highly prized in ancient Greece, being given as an
offering to the Gods, used for paying taxes, and even in
paying ransoms. Some of the ransoms were
paid to the Ottoman Tribes. Rome also utilized pepper
for taxes. The famous Roman Centurions received peppercorns as part of their pay.
The Middle Ages saw the
price of pepper equal that of gold. The upper class
often kept stores of it and accepted it as payment for
rent and other debts. One pound of peppercorns was
worth three weeks of work during this time frame.
Pepper is known as the
king or master spice because even today it makes up
about a quarter of the spice trade.
Historically, it was a popular spice to use because it
flavored bland food and covered up any signs of
Aside from culinary
deliciousness, pepper has other uses. It is toxic to
several insects so is an effective insecticide. You can
sprinkle pepper around non-garden areas to keep insects
out. Mix ˝ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper to one
quart of warm water and spray it on plants to kill ants,
potato bugs, and silverfish.
also been used as a brandy flavor and in perfumes.
The best way to determine
the flavor of peppercorns is to smell them. To cleanse
you nose and sense of smell try smelling coffee beans in
between each sample.
Almost every recipe calls
for a sprinkle or dash of pepper. For the novice, this
can be a difficult measurement. Should you shake
your pepper shaker once or twice? Should the grinder be
turned five or six times? With the small measurements,
it really doesn't matter. However, if you are concerned
about the intake of pepper, then five turns on your
typical pepper grinder is about an 1/8 of a teaspoon.
Other helpful cooking tips include:
Put a few peppercorns
in your pepper shaker to add flavor and prevent
If cooking a recipe
with a lot of pepper, be cautious of the cooking steam for
it may cause irritation.
Use in the preparation
of venison as it is complementary to its deep flavor.
Add pepper at the end
of the cooking process to reduce the loss of flavor.
Combine olive oil,
lemon juice, salt, and cracked pepper to make a salad
Health and Medicinal
In a Christmas Carol,
Scrooge is trying to sneeze, sniffing from a sniff box
containing pepper. This intimates one of the multiple
health uses of pepper. This master spice has
nutritional value and many medicinal uses. These uses
have been put into practice since the time of
The peppercorns are rich in
vitamin A and K, as well as a good source of dietary
fiber and contain the following:
capsaicin which is
supposed to block the cancer forming compounds in
smoked and cured meats and fish.
Pepper is also an
antioxidant and antibacterial agent. In
addition to the nutritional elements, pepper is supposed
to help with the following ailments:
Abdominal pain, heart
burn, inadequate stomach juices, indigestion, and
other stomach problems. Pepper stimulates the taste
buds which signals the body to produce hydrochloric
acid which helps to break down foods not being digested by stimulating by stimulate
provides mild amount of energy
obesity by stimulating
the breakdown of fat cells; this comes from the
outer layer of the peppercorn.
poor memory and poor
respiratory phlegm and
mucus by stimulating membranes in the nose to
secrete a lubricant
weakness caused by
cholera, coma, or vertigo
Additionally, pepper is an
aromatic stimulant, good for the urinary organs. If you
gargle with pepper, it relaxes the uvula and paralyzes the tongue. Since pepper aids
so much with the digestive system, its use can also
correct flatulence and nausea. By making a
salve with pepper, this spice can be used externally for
hives and other skin ailments.
Due to the differences in
grades and coarseness, the dose and application may vary
so be cautious when using it for medicinal purposes. Apparently a handful of pepper has killed several small
children so be extremely cautious when giving doses to
children. It is also advised for pregnant and breast
feeding women to use only a moderate amount of pepper.
There are some drugs that
do not mix well with pepper so check with your doctor if
you are taking any of the following:
Smoking cessation aids
care and use of pepper
How old is your pepper in
your pepper shaker? Are you buying ground pepper or
using a handy grinder? Commercially available are
several brands of peppercorns in their own handy
grinders. These make it easy to purchase the whole
peppercorn and have a fresher and more zesty spice.
Here are some tips for ensuring good flavor from your
buy whole peppercorns
and grind yourself
cook with organically
keep in a tightly
sealed glass container in a cool, dark, dry location
ground pepper holds
its flavor only about three months, whole
peppercorns hold their flavor almost indefinitely
will enhance its flavor
peppercorns in a brine after they have been opened.8
These last about a week.
Whole peppercorns can be
added to marinades, liquid for poaching, fish, and
liquid for boiling a variety of meats. Follow these
Marinades - 10-12 whole
Poaching liquid - 4-6
Fish - 1-2 whole
Liquid for boiling meat -
8-10 whole peppercorns
Haughty Cusick, Heidi, The
International Pantry Cookbook, Chronicle Books, 1998, pg
Hill, Tony, The Contemporary
Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices Seasons for the Global
Kitchen, Wiley John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2004 pgs 253-261.
Avila, Juan R and Charles Fetrow, The Complete Guide to
Herbal Medicines, Pocket Books, 2000 pgs 418 – 420.
Dipion, vicki Edgson and Ian Marber Dipion, The Food
Doctor, Collins and Brown, 1999, pgs 25, 45, 96, 129.
Grieve, M, A Modern Herbal Vol II I – Z, Dover
Publications Inc, 1971, pgs 627-628.
Day, Avanelle and Lillie Stuckey, The Spice Cookbook,
David White Company, 1964, pg 49-51.
The Spice House.