All About Peppercorns
History & Origins
The King of spices, pepper is one of the oldest and most popular spices in the world. It is also the spice that steered the history of the world. Pepper is prepared from the berries of a perennial evergreen vine. It is native to the damp jungles of southwest India’s Malabar Coast.
Pepper was one of the earliest items of commerce between Asia and Europe. It was highly prized as a precious commodity, so much so, that when Alaric, King of the Goths, laid siege to Rome in A.D. 408, he was paid a ransom of 3,000 pounds of pepper, an amount worth a vast fortune in those days. In 13th century Europe, peppercorns were used as a currency to pay taxes, tolls and rents, and many European towns kept their accounts in pepper. At times it was worth more than the price of gold!
These are occasionally available fresh, still on the long stem. Used particularly in Thai cooking, green peppercorns also compliment duck dishes and creamy sauces. Green peppercorns are available prickled in brine or vinegar, or freeze-dried.
The unripe green berries are dried on mats in the sun and raked several times a day for a week until they are wrinkled and black.
The ripe red and orange berries are packed in sacks and soaked for a week under slowly running water. This process rots the outer husk of the berries so that it can be removed. The husked berried are white peppercorns.
Not The Real Thing!
These are not true peppercorns but they have a pungency associated with that spice and are similar in size to peppercorns. Native to South America, pink peppercorns are picked when ripe and dried or prickled in brine.
Again not true peppercorn, Szechuan pepper is the fruit of the tree of the prickly ash family. The rust-red berries contain bitter black seeds that are usually removed before the spice is sold.
Aroma and Flavor
Black peppercorns have a rich and earthly aroma and they taste highly pungent. White peppercorns are less earthly and not as pungent or rich as the black peppercorns.
The flavour of white pepper is cleaner, less rich and not as complex. Green peppercorns are lighter in flavour than the black peppercorns, but just as hot. They do not smell or taste as complex as the other peppers.
Szechuan pepper is pungent, with a hint of citrus. Dry frying will bring out the flavor, which is pleasantly peppery.
Pink peppercorns do not have a strong aroma until they are crushed, then they give off a faint sweet-peppery smell. Their flavor is sweet and slightly scented with only a peppery aftertaste.
Health Benefits of Peppers
Black pepper helps in digestion and also serves as an appetite stimulant. Black pepper stimulates the taste buds to notify the stomach to increase its secretion of hydrochloric acid thereby improving the digestion of food once it reaches your stomach. The stimulation of hydrochloric acid secretion in the stomach also reduces intestinal gas problems.
Black pepper is also known to have a great amount of antioxidant properties and it also prevents bacterial growth in the intestinal tract.
In Chinese natural cures, black and white pepper are good for cold, abdominal pain, upset stomach, vomiting of clear water, diarrhea and food poisoning.
- Boil 30g sliced fresh ginger with 1g of ground black pepper in 3 cups of water until water reduced to 1 cup. Drink this amount 3 times a day for 1 day to stop vomiting due to upset stomach.
In India, some organic agriculture use ground pepper mixed with water to spray on plants as a natural insecticide. The same solution can also be sprinkled on areas infested with ants. And if you are having some tummy trouble, below is a traditional Indian recipe for anti-flatulence.
- Mix ½ tsp of ground black pepper, ½ tsp of ground cumin, ½ tsp of ground ginger and 1 cup (250ml) of warm water together into a drink.
Buying & Storing Peppers & Preparation
Pepper is best purchased whole, as freshly ground pepper is very much superior to the ready ground powder. Whole peppercorns keep their flavour indefinitely but quickly lose its aroma and heat after it has been ground. Peppercorns should be stored in airtight containers, away from sunlight.
Dry roast the whole peppercorn in a wok on low heat to enhance its flavour before grinding and use within 1 week