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History of Black Pepper – The Most Popular and Most Important Spice in History

History of Black Pepper – The Most Popular and Most Important Spice in History

Black pepper is undoubtedly the most popular and important spice in the world. Pepper is a very pungent spice, and gets this from a volatile oil called alkaloid piperine.

The pepper plant itself is a perennial vine that has dark green leaves and small white flowers. These flowers become clusters of green berries, which is the product known as green peppercorns. Black peppercorns are the unripe berries that have been sun-dried, while white peppercorns are just black peppercorns with their outer skins rubbed off.

Black peppercorns are harvested as the berries are turning red, just before they are completely ripe. They are left on mats to dry and ferment in the sun. This must be done quickly to prevent mold. As the berries dry they turn black in color. Because the pungency of black peppercorns comes mostly from the outer, black cover, they are stronger than the white peppercorns.

Black pepper is native to southwest India, but its trade can be traced all the way back to the earliest civilizations. Mummies from around 1200 B.C have been discovered with peppercorns as part of the mummification process. This shows that there was an active spice trade between India and Egypt.

In ancient days, the typical pepper orchard in India consisted of a small plot of land where moisture and shade were abundant. The pepper vines would be planted next to tall trees in order to be able to train the vine’s growth pattern. The idea was to get the plant to grow upwards, allowing full berry production.

Pepper plants were planted every June at the beginning of the monsoon season in India. The plants would shoot up and start to climb the taller surrounding trees. They would flower the following may, and in December the berries began to change color, and were ready for the harvesting. Since the berries were fragile, picking the fruit was done with great care. After picking, the pepper berries were spread out onto the ground and allowed to dry until they turned black and shriveled up. After about a month’s storage, they were ready to be sold as black peppercorns.

The world’s spice trade itself is not as prevalent in today’s world, but the popularity of black pepper continues today, as virtually every cuisine from every part of the world imports the spice into their cooking on a daily basis. Economically and gastronomically, black pepper remains the world’s most important spice today.

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