When we think of Indian spices, the first ones that come to mind are pepper, turmeric, and cloves. And exactly in that order too, maybe it is because we were taught how valuable all of these spices were in antiquity. Or maybe it is because the first thing we think of after preparing a fried egg is to dust it with pepper powder. This humble ingredient actually has a proud history and we will be exploring this in today’s post. So here are 10 things you didn’t know about peppercorns.
Pepper and not chili is the original Indian spice
The black pepper or Piper Nigrum first sprouted on the Malabar coast around the Miocene period (23 million to 5 million years ago). Pepper has been used in traditional South Indian cuisine for centuries. As a commodity of export, pepper was well worth its weight in gold several times over. Sought out first by the Romans, then the Arabs, and finally the European traders, this spice is often cited as the cause of marine exploration and eventual colonization. Until the early 1500s, chilies were virtually unknown to Indian cuisine, and only after the sea mission of Vasco da Gama, was it introduced here.
Pepper is actually a fruit and not a spice
Even though they are anything like a fruit, peppercorns are technically the fruit of the Piper Nigrum tree. They belong to a class of plants called drupes much like peaches and cherries.
Some peppercorns aren’t even peppercorns
Szechuan peppercorns are not the fruit of the Piper Nigrum plant and are technically not even peppercorns, they are instead from the prickly ash tree in China. Similarly, pink peppercorns are also not true pepper, as they are derived from a South American shrub.
The different colours of the peppercorn are indicative of ripeness and taste subtly different from one another
Black, white, red and green peppercorns come from the same Piper Nigrum plant. The major difference between them is their ripeness and method of preparation. Black and green peppercorns are both unripe, the black one is processed by drying and cooking it. White peppercorns are usually soaked in water to remove their skins. Red peppercorns are allowed to mature until they turn bright red.
Consuming pepper has some proven health benefits
Peppercorns are rich in a chemical compound called Piperin. This is the chemical that gives pepper its heat and pungent taste. It is eich in antioxidants and is known to help pain and is an anti-inflammatory as well. It also helps the body better absorb circumin, the beneficial element found in turmeric.
Peppercorns once played an important role in liberating Rome
We know how valuable spices were to the ancient world. Nowhere more so than in Rome. Legend has it that when a certain barbaric tribe had laid siege to the eternal city, the Senate negotiated Rome’s release by offering the invaders, silks, gems, gold, and nearly 3,300 pounds of peppercorns imported from India. Talk about being worth its weight in gold.
Pepper is called the King of Spices
The fact that pepper is one of the oldest traded spices is well known. In fact, pepper is still so well traded that it is easily the most traded spice in the world. The Malabar coast of Kerala is home to many ports like Calicut and Cochin which from time immemorial have been called the Pepper Ports.
Pepper is known to be beneficial to digestion
Along with its many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, piperin the chemical found in pepper helps the body digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in a more efficient manner.
Pepper is a historically significant and versatile spice that is prized for its flavour, aroma, and its many healing properties. Our Isvaari range of spices has some of the most sought-after peppercorns and powders, do check them out in the shop section. Until next time, goodbye!