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Black Pepper

Hindi Name:                                        Gulmirch

Sanskrit Name:                                        Maricha (translates as 'sun')

Latin Name:                                        Piper Nigrum

Plant Family:                                        Piperaceae

Region Grown:                                        95% of India's Black Pepper is grown in Kerala

Part of Plant Used:                                        Dried unripe fruit

Plant Description:                                        Perennial climbing vine with woody stems which uses trees or trellises for support, rooting where trailing stems touch the ground. Flowers appear on long spikes which are replaced by the fruits.

Characteristics:                                        Almost as commonly used as salt for seasoning across the world – surely known to almost everyone. Its popularity largely stems from its ability to bring food to life without overpowering it. Ideally it should be used as soon after being ground as possible as it loses its flavour quickly. When cooking, it should be added towards the end of the cooking process so that the flavour is not ‘cooked out’ of it. It should be stored in an airtight and opaque container as light will reduce its spiciness. It was originally as prized for its medicinal properties as much as its flavour.

Aroma:                                        So well known and distinctive that the descriptive term ‘peppery’ is widely used when describing other aromas - it is pungent with a sharp, yet, warming, woody almost vanilla note.

History:                                        Black Pepper is widely acknowledged as ‘The King of Spices’. It has a history going back 4000 years, starting on the Malabar Coast in southern India from where it was traded across the world to the extent that it became known as ‘black gold’. In the 16th century it was held in higher esteem than gold as it was a more reliable currency – you could never tell how much actual gold was contained in coins.    * The history of Western trade, conquest and discovery has been greatly shaped by black pepper. In 1200BC the enterprising Phoenicians controlled trade in the western world, and they were introduced to spice by nomadic Arab tradesmen. As the Greeks and then the Romans came to the ascendancy, black pepper was always central to any trading, and it has continued thus.    * The Greeks were more interested in pepper for its medicinal values, whilst the Romans used it to spice up their food to the extent that they became India’s biggest customers. In those days the journey from India to Europe by sea would take over a year (still only half the time that it took the early Greeks!). It was a Greek sailor in the 1st Century who cracked the complex monsoon winds to bring about such a ‘speedy’ journey. The Romans brought the black pepper to Northern Europe, but, when their empire fell, so did the supply.    * The crusades, which started in the late 11th century, opened up the trade between north and south again, much to the benefit of Venice. For this was the city through which spices flowed to the rest of Europe, and high demand lead to a high price. The price became so high that alternate sources were avidly sought. The Portuguese went over to India, followed by the Dutch, and then the British and French. Finally, this level of competition brought about some semblance of sanity in the pricing. Black pepper, even now, still accounts for around a quarter of the spice trade.

Points of Interest:                                        One myth involving black pepper is that it can not be digested, instead remaining in the digestive tract for years. This is certainly not true.    * The phrase ‘peppercorn rent’ arose from the days when pepper was so highly valued it could be used for all sorts of transactions including dowries, debts, bribes and rent. Ironically, because pepper has become so cheap, it now means a purely nominal amount of rent.    * In the Middle Ages pepper helped mask the odour of less than fresh meat and helped give flavour to meats preserved for a long time.

Ayurvedic Properties:                                         Cools Kapha and Vata, warms Pitta. It acts upon circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems. It acts as a stimulant, expectorant, anthelmintic, carminative, anti-pyretic and an antiperiodic. It can be used externally as a rubefacient, stimulant, and resolvent. Its Ayurvedic uses are many: asthma, chronic indigestion, colon toxins, obesity, sinus congestion, fever, intermittent fever, cold extremities, colic, cholera, gastric ailments, gas, diarrhea, haemorrhoids, worms, sore throat, and can be applied as a paste to boils and various skin diseases. It is commonly used in the west as a digestive aid and to relieve gas.Energetics: pungent-hot-pungent

Precautions:                                                            Excess can cause digestive inflammation.

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