Pepper is a spice obtained from the homonymous plant (Piper nigrum L.) of the Piperaceae family, of which its fruits are used, from which through different processing procedures, white pepper, black pepper and green pepper are obtained .
Origins and History –
Pepper is a plant native to India, which arrived in the West around two thousand five hundred years ago, meeting the unconditional favor of doctors and gastronomes. In the kitchen of Rome it entered many dishes, although sometimes replaced by the cheaper myrtle.
So little was known about the pepper plant that in imperial times the legend that it was collected by monkeys had spread, since the plant sprouted in places inaccessible to humans.
The small fleshy fruit of the pepper contains a single seed which, when not yet ripe, represents the green pepper, when ripe and dried it becomes the black pepper, while released from the pulp is the white pepper. The ancients, knowing only the grains but not the plant, made the mistake of believing that white pepper and black pepper were two different trees.
The organoleptic characteristics of this plant mean that, in addition to cooking, pepper was used as a medicine in ancient times. Discoride, Galen and the other doctors recognized multiple properties: diuretic, appetite stimulant, digestive, pain reliever, but no one mentioned the alleged stimulating actions of the genital system.
Different was the popular belief that attributed to pepper aphrodisiac virtues. Ovid suggested to those who were sexually debilitated: “… piper urticale mordacis, semina miscent” (mix the pepper with the irritating nettle seeds).
In the mid-sixteenth century, for the first time, a medical work cited pepper among foods and drinks beneficial to the impotent. Even in the following centuries the spice found confirmation of these virtues in the medical treatises:
“The principles of pepper penetrate the blood mass, reach the organic tissues and fibers … All observers agree that this substance agitates the blood. And it was believed that it increases the life of the genital system, leading to the venereal act. ”
This spice in past times had a very high cost, thanks to its timeless conservation and the difficult sophistication it could undergo.
Pepper was therefore a rare commodity with which vassals often paid tributes or redemptions. It seems that the first to receive this kind of compensation was Alaric king of the Visigoths, who to renounce the conquest of Rome (408 AD) obtained three thousand pounds of pepper, together with five thousand pounds of gold and other goods and territories.
For this reason, pepper for a long time represented a precious commodity of exchange so much that the constant demand for pepper dominated the spice trade over the centuries, to the point of pushing merchants and adventurers to beat even the most dangerous ways.
At the end of the Middle Ages almost all the pepper trade in Europe passed through Venice. Cargoes loaded in Middle Eastern ports were sold at auction in Rialto by special state-appointed officials, called “messeri del pepe”.
Thus we arrive at the fifteenth century, with the discovery of the “Vie delle Spezie” by Henry the Navigator, that the market moved to Lisbon. From Venetian correspondence it appeared that at the beginning of the sixteenth century the difference between the price of pepper in India and Lisbon was in the ratio of 3 to 22, thus guaranteeing an immense income for the Portuguese, since pepper represented two thirds of all imported spices. At that time there were also those who tried to grow the plant in our latitudes, for example in Naples, without however being able to obtain the fruits.
Today pepper, in addition to being the most used spice in cooking, is among the few substances to which medicine recognizes some aphrodisiac activity, by virtue of the congestive action exerted on the genital organs.
Piper nigrum is a plant, as mentioned, originally from southern India and is grown extensively both in India and in tropical countries. The ripe fruit looks like a dark red berry, has a diameter of about five millimeters and contains only one seed.
The fruit is a drupe, containing only one seed, about 5 mm in diameter, first green, then red, when ripe. The axis of the ear reaches a length of seven / fifteen centimeters when the fruits are ripe.
The varieties are chosen for the quality of the fruit and for their longevity. A single branch produces on average 20 to 30 shoots. Harvesting begins as soon as one or two drupes at the base of the peduncle turn red and before the fruits reach maturity. The fruits that remain on the plant fall on their own and are lost for the harvest. The drupes collected are placed in the sun for drying and then they are shelled to extract the fruits.
Active principles –
Pepper is a spice that contains many amino acids including: aspartic acid, glutamic acid, alanine, arginine, cystine, glycine, phenylalanine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, proline, methionine, serine, tyrosine, tryptophan, valine and threonine.
Furthermore, in black pepper there is a percentage of starch that can vary from 40 to 48% approximately. The amount of piperine that is around 6%. Piperine is a substance that gives black pepper its characteristic flavor.
It also contains numerous monoterpenes such as terpene, sabinene, limonene and mercene which contribute to forming the aromatic structure of black pepper.
As for calories, 100 grams of this spice have a calorie yield of 251 calories. In addition, 100 g black pepper contains: Proteins 10.39 g, Carbohydrates 63.95 g, Sugars 0.64 g, Fats 3.26 g, Dietary fiber 25.3 g and Sodium 20 mg.
Properties and Uses –
Pepper represents one of the most common spices in European cuisine and its derivatives have been known and appreciated since ancient times both for their flavor and for their use in Ayurvedic medicine.
Like all oriental spices, pepper has been a seasoning and a medicine in history. Black pepper appears in the remedies of medicine Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani in India. The Syrian Book of Medicine of the fifth century prescribes pepper for the following diseases: constipation, diarrhea, earache, gangrene, heart disease, hernia, indigestion, insect bites, insomnia, liver problems, oral abscesses and more. Various sources, from the fifth century onwards, recommend the use of pepper in eye problems by applying ointments or poultices made with pepper directly on the eyes.
There is no medical evidence that these treatments could bring any benefit.
Pepper is excluded from the diet of patients operated on in the abdomen or with an ongoing abdominal ulcer due to its irritating effect.
In addition, pepper should be banned from the table of people suffering from: gastro-oesophageal reflux, esophagitis, gastric ulcer, duodenal ulcer, all diseases of the intestine, from colitis to Crohn’s disease, from diverticulitis to the simple irritable colon, hemorrhoids of any degree, anal fissures.
Pepper owes its spiciness almost completely from piperine, a substance found in both the pulp and the seed.
Refined piperine is about one percent spicy compared to the capsaicin contained in chillies. The pulp, left in black pepper, also contains important aromas such as: terpene, pinene, sabinene, limonene, caryophyllene and linalool which give a lemon, wood and flower flavor. These scents are greatly reduced in white pepper as it is completely devoid of the pulp. White pepper may contain other flavors (including stale smell) due to long fermentation.
Pepper represents, in monetary value, 20% of the spice trade in the world (2002). The price of pepper is volatile and fluctuates a lot from year to year. For example, in 1998 the value of pepper represented 39% of all spices marketed. The world pepper market is in Kochi. Vietnam has recently become the world’s largest pepper producer. The world’s largest producers are: Vietnam (85,000 tons), Indonesia (67,000 tons), India (65,000 tons), Brazil (35,000 tons), Malaysia (22,000 tons), Sri Lanka (12,750 tons), Thailand and China. In addition, Cambodia has also been an important historical pepper producer. Famous was in fact the one coming from the locality of Kampot. Vietnam dominates world exports by selling its production almost entirely.
As for the three forms in which pepper can be marketed and used, we remind:
– Black pepper – is produced from the unripe fruit of the pepper plant. The fruits are blanched briefly in hot water both to wash them and to prepare them for drying. The breaking of the pulp, during drying, speeds up the blackening of the pepper grain. The grains are dried in the sun, or with special dryers, for several days during which the fruits dehydrate and blacken. Once dried, they are called black pepper. Black pepper is often named according to the place of production: India, Malabar, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries.
– White pepper – is given by the seed of the fruit only. It is obtained by soaking the pepper fruit for about a week. In this way the pulp decomposes and can easily be eliminated. Removed the mesocarp, the seed is dried. Alternative processes are used to remove the pulp from the fruit including removing the dried peel from the black pepper.
– Green pepper – as well as black, is produced from the unripe fruit. In the drying process it is treated with sulfur dioxide in order to maintain the green color of the fruit.
Then we have the green pepper in brine, which is an unripe pepper preserved in brine or in vinegar. In Southeast Asian cuisine and especially in Thai cuisine, unripe peppercorns freshly harvested from the plant are commonly used.
Black pepper is the most common, while white pepper is mainly used in the preparation of colored sauces, where the black of the pulp would remain visible.
Pepper is a spice that loses flavor and aroma by evaporation, therefore storage under vacuum helps to maintain the original spice fragrance longer. Pepper loses flavor when exposed to light, due to the transformation of piperine.
Ground pepper immediately loses its aroma and therefore many cooking recipes recommend grinding pepper at the moment.
Manual pepper mills are used to grind spices both at the table and in the kitchen. Grinders were found in European kitchens since the 14th century but the mortar and pestle used previously remained in use for centuries.
Black pepper is widely used in cooking: from appetizers, to first courses, to second courses, it often becomes co-protagonist together with the other ingredients of excellent dishes.
A tasty idea to use this precious spice and give a strong and spicy flavor to a recipe always loved by everyone, is to make it particularly present in special potato croquettes.
Even a simple saffron paste is enriched with the flavor of a generous sprinkling of black pepper.
With black pepper you can also easily prepare a particular mixture that you can use to flavor the meat above all.
As for white pepper, it has a more delicate flavor than black peppercorns and has a smaller size. Its lighter taste makes it perfect for flavoring fish dishes, white meat main courses, side dishes with potatoes, mushrooms, sauces and soups.
In fact, buttered, fried or baked potatoes to which white pepper must be added are highly appreciated.
Finally, as regards green pepper, which is collected from the same plant as black pepper but at different times, this has a refreshing taste and can be used in whole or ground recipes.
Its flavor combines well with white meats so we suggest you a very easy recipe, perfect for a family dinner.
Warning: The information shown is not medical advice and may not be accurate. The contents are for illustrative purposes only and do not replace medical advice.