Black pepper scientifically known as Piper nigrum is a flowering vine from the Piperaceae family which is generally dried and used as a spice and for seasoning. The fruit from this plant when dried are known as peppercorns which are just about 5 mm in diameter, dark red and contains a single seed. The pepper plant is a woody vine that grows up to 33 feet tall and is found in hot, humid, and tropical climates.
The word pepper is derived from the Sanskrit word pippali and the Latin word piper which was used by the Romans to refer both to pepper and long pepper, as the Romans erroneously believed that both of these spices were derived from the same plant. “Pepper” was used in a figurative sense to mean “spirit” or “energy” at least as far back as the 1840s; in the early 20th century, this was shortened to pep.
The peppercorns like the black pepper, green pepper and white peppercorn are from the same fruit Piper nigrum with difference in their color and vary in stages of development and processing methods. The green peppercorns are just the immature black peppercorns.
Green peppercorns are picked when unripe and green in color and white peppercorns are picked when they are ripe and soaked in brine to remove their dark outer shell leaving just the white pepper seeds. The black peppers are made by picking the pepper corns when they are half ripe and just about to turn red. They are left to dry that causes them to shivel and become dark in color.
Black pepper is the most pungent and flavorful of all types of peppers and it is available in any form either as whole or ground into powder. Pepper corn is native to India and played an important role throughout history as it was a prized spice since ancient times. It was the most expensive spice that was not only used as a seasoning but also as a currency and sacred offering. Pepper was used to honor the gods and to pay taxes and ransoms. During the fall of ancient Rome, the invading barbarians were even honored by being given black pepper.
The pepper was so cherished and served for culinary purposes mainly for its pungency spice used for bland foods like soups, pastas and fried rice. Pepper became an important spice that catalyzed much of the spice trade. Piperine is one of the two alkaloids in Black Pepper that make it “hot and spicy.” Pepper rasam is a very popular dish prepared in southern India and is very good for stomach and digestion. Black pepper is one of the most popular spices in the world and has a long history. Records show black pepper being traded from south Asia dating back to 4000 years. Black pepper was such an important trade item that if single peppercorn were dropped on the floor it would be searched for like a lost pearl. Black pepper has also been used over the centuries for traditional medicinal purposes.
Piperine (black pepper) and Curcumin (turmeric) are both basic ingredients of the popular Indian dish “curry” as it is popularly prepared in spice preparations in supermarkets in the western world. Caution as it generally safe to eat curry, it may not be safe to take piperine supplements, particularly with medicine. If you consider piperine supplementation, please consult a trustworthy doctor first about it. Piperine in pure form may increase the efficacy of certain medicines and cause side effects.
White pepper is used in dishes like light-colored sauces or mashed potatoes, where ground black pepper would visibly stand out. They have differing flavor due to the presence of certain compounds in the outer fruit layer of the drupe that are not found in the seed. Peppercorns are often categorized under a label describing their region or port of origin. Two well-known types come from India’s Malabar Coast: Malabar pepper and Tellicherry pepper. Tellicherry is a higher-grade pepper, made from the largest, ripest 10% of fruits from Malabar plants grown on Mount Tellicherry.
Black pepper is grown in soil that is neither too dry nor susceptible to flooding. It should be moist, well-drained and rich in organic matter (the vines do not do too well over an altitude of 3000 ft above sea level). Like many eastern spices, pepper was historically both a seasoning and a medicine. Long pepper, being stronger, was often the preferred medication, but both were used.
Black Pepper (or perhaps long pepper) was believed to cure illness such as constipation, diarrhea, earache, gangrene, heart disease, hernia, hoarseness, indigestion, insect bites, insomnia, joint pain, liver problems, lung disease, oral abscesses, sunburn, tooth decay, and toothaches. Way back from the 5th century onward also recommend pepper to treat eye problems. Black pepper either powdered or its decoction is widely used in traditional Indian medicine and as a home remedy for relief from sore throat, throat congestion, cough etc. Pepper is known to cause sneezing.
Piperine and other components from black pepper may also be helpful in treating vitiligo, although when combined with UV radiation should be staggered due to the effect of light on the compound. Black pepper is an excellent source of manganese, a very good source of iron and vitamin K, and a good source of dietary fiber. Pepper corns are rich source of many anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-C and vitamin-A. They also rich in flavonoid polyphenolic anti-oxidants like carotenes, cryptoxanthin, zea-xanthin and lycopene. These compounds help body remove harmful free radicals and help protect from cancers and diseases.
The nutritional values per 4.28 gms (2 tsps) of black pepper are:
Manganese: 0.24 mg
Vitamin K: 6.88 mcg
Iron: 1.24 mg
Dietary fiber: 1.12 g