Herb & Spice Series: Pepper
I’m a pepper…lover! I never needed converting. I was born craving it. And a shaker wouldn’t do. My home was always equipped with whole peppercorns and a mill for grinding on demand.
Pepper not only plays an important role on my plate, it can be found in recipes around the world. Sometimes a star ingredient and on other occasions just a pinch to support a dish. And if you take a minute to think about pantry basics - whole, cracked or ground - pepper is a spice that tends to find its way onto even the sparest of spice racks. In fact, black pepper is the world’s most traded spice! But do you ever wonder how pepper became so popular and why so many of us love it like we do?
- Native to south India, black pepper has been cultivated for thousands of years with recorded mentions of it dating back to 1,000 BC.
- Pepper is the unripe fruit of a flowering vine and, in the proper climate, can grow to over 30 feet!
- Beyond black, peppercorns grow in a multitude of colors, a rainbow of peppery delicious spice.
- Green pepper: the fruit is allowed to ripen, and is then dried
- White pepper: only the seeds of the unripe fruit are dried
- Orange or red pepper: ripe, red fruit preserved in a vinegar brine and sometimes dried
- Pink pepper: not from the piper nigrum and thus not a true pepper but used in place of pepper. (It’s actually the dried fruit or berry from Peruvian pepper trees.) May be blended with black or white peppercorns in commercial pepper “blends.”
- The spiciness of black pepper comes from a chemical called piperine.
- Peppercorns are rich in vitamin A and K and are even a good source of dietary fiber.
- Beyond using pepper as a food source it can be used to deter insects from gardens.
- Medicinally pepper has been used as a digestive stimulant, expectorant, and mixed into an ointment for external relief of itchy conditions.
Is there a particular peppercorn on your countertop? Are you a loyal grinder or do you defer to cracked pepper on occasion? We invite you to chime in and share your insights and get your “burning” questions answered!