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Pepper Particulars

Pepper is one of those spices that is enjoyed literally the world over. Along with salt, it is one of the most popular spices and appears on tables everywhere.

Food historians note that pepper cultivation probably began way back in about 1000 B.C. and for centuries, pepper was a spice of the upper class, a luxury that could only be afforded by those of means.

Ironically, it’s now the second-most used spice in the world, behind salt. It’s an ingredient in many recipes but is also popular as a condiment and is commonly sprinkled on everything from eggs and potatoes to steaks and salads. And it comes in many more varieties than just the black kind that most often appears on tables at home and in restaurants, making it quite an interesting and prolific spice.

Pepper and Good Health

Aside from adding taste to just about any food, pepper is also lauded for its nutritional properties. Peppercorns, the little balls from which common ground pepper is made, are rich in vitamins K and A and are also a good source of fiber. Those tiny kernels also offer magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and beta carotene, and pepper is also a known anti-oxidant.

Throughout the centuries, the use of pepper was also recommended to treat a number of ailments including heartburn and indigestion, intestinal pain and constipation, cold and flu, stiffness from arthritis, runny nose, ulcers, and poor memory. While most of these recommendations don’t exist in modern-day traditional medicine, many health food aficionados still subscribe to the use of pepper and peppercorns for some of these disorders.

Kinds of Pepper

India is the major producer of pepper and more than 50 percent of the world’s supply comes from that country. However, it is also cultivated in parts of South America, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and China. The peppercorn comes from the pepper push – a perennial – which bears fruit about 3 or 4 times a year. The bush, according to experts, grows best within about 20 degrees of the Equator.

From this bush come various colors of peppercorns. The time when the bush is harvested along with processing methods used will determine the color of the peppercorn.

o Black – This popular form of pepper comes from dried berries of the pepper bush. Specifically, the berries are picked just before they are ripe and left to dry in the sun. During the drying process, the berries turn dark brown to dark black. (You’ll notice some color variations in a jar of black peppercorns.) On your grocery store shelf, you’ll find black pepper in three varieties: whole peppercorns, which are often used for pickling; cracked, popular for use on meats and salads; and ground, which is what you put in your table shaker. The Tellicherry form of black peppercorns is currently the most widely used and hails from Southwest India.

o White – This variety of pepper is much more popular in Europe than in North America. White peppercorns come from berries that are picked when ripe, bathed in water to remove the husk, and then sun dried. Because the husks are removed, the corns will not turn dark during drying. White pepper is available whole and ground and is excellent for use in dishes where you’d rather not see specks of black pepper, including cream sauces or soups.

o Green – These peppercorns are from berries picked before they are ripe, similar to black peppercorns. However, they are not dried so they retain their green color rather than turning black. Green pepper is less pungent than black pepper and the taste tends not to linger in the mouth. It can be purchased in a freeze-dried state or packed in brine and water.

o Red – Not to be confused with cayenne pepper, red peppercorns tend to be rare in stores in the U.S. They come from berries that are harvested along with the vine and have a much mellower flavor than either black, white, or green peppercorns.