Black pepper (Piper nigrum) originally comes from India and was a popular seasoning in the Roman Empire. It can have a mild to spicy taste.
Black pepper, also known as common pepper and black peppercorns, can be used to flavor many dishes. It can be used in a variety of ways, seasoning not only salads, sauces, soups, stews and raw vegetables, but also cooked vegetables, various side dishes, and even fruits, cakes, and other desserts. Whole peppercorns are often used to make pickled cucumbers and other pickled vegetables.
How spicy is pepper? Pepper has a hot, slightly burning spicy flavor. Peppercorns are sold in multiple colors, namely green, black, red, and white. These color differences reflect the time of harvest and processing. Accordingly, the colors show differences in flavor and degree of spiciness.
What kinds of pepper are there? Green peppercorns taste fresh, herbaceous, and slightly hot. Add whole or crushed green pepper to dishes just before they finish cooking. Green pepper is ideal for sauces, soups, curries, fish, meat, and vinaigrette.
Black pepper is spicier than green pepper and often has a eucalyptus- or camphor-like aroma. It tends to be used to season darker dishes, such as soups made from legumes, vegetable dishes, and fruits, for example, strawberries, figs, and oranges.
Red peppercorns (sometimes called orange peppercorns) have the same aroma and taste as black pepper, but they also have a certain sweetness mixed in with their spicy flavor. Red peppercorns pair well with fruity dishes (with mango, citrus fruits, strawberries, coconut), and dishes containing nuts, carrots, lentils, and vegetables of the gourd family such as squash and zucchini.
Which is hotter, black or white pepper? White pepper is said to have a light cedar taste. White peppercorns are hotter than black pepper, but contain fewer flavoring agents (e.g., oil and resin) than black peppercorns.1,2 White pepper is therefore ideal for light meals, sauces, salads, and cauliflower and potato dishes. In addition, one to two white peppercorns can really give preserved peaches and mirabelle plums a delicious flavor.3
In general, pepper should not be cooked for a long time; otherwise, it will lose some of its important flavors. Frying pepper at excessively high temperatures can cause your dish to have a bitter aftertaste.4 If you want to enjoy the taste of pepper to its fullest, we suggest that you use whole peppercorns. Depending on how you prepare a given dish, you can add peppercorns, and then either remove them before serving, or serve the dish with the peppercorns. You can also freshly grind the peppercorns with a pepper mill or mortar and pestle. Unlike commercially ground pepper, the pepper is then not exposed to oxidative processes as long, meaning that fewer flavors are lost.
Pepper is a component of many spice mixes as well as traditional national dishes from around the world. Fresh green peppercorns are particularly important in Thailand, where they are used to flavor wok dishes and curries. Famous spice mixes that contain pepper include ras el hanout5 from North African cuisine, the Indian mix garam masala6, the Yemeni paste S-chug (Zhoug)7, and the French quatre-épices8. In Sri Lanka and Georgia, black pepper is a very popular table spice and is added generously to certain dishes. In France, pepper is cooked with vinegar in the sauce béarnaise9. Indian milk tea, Italian panforte, and some types of gingerbread also owe their distinctive flavor in part to pepper.10
A garam masala spice blend can be made using the following ingredients: 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, ½ to 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground in a pepper mill), 1 teaspoon ground cardamom capsules (remove from pods before grinding), 1 teaspoon cinnamon (you can also use part of a cinnamon stick), 5 to 6 cloves, and ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg. Put all the ingredients in an electric coffee grinder or a high-speed blender and grind into a fine powder. With these quantities, you get approximately 100 ml spice mix (12 to 15 portions), and this mix can last several months if stored in a dark, cool, airtight place.
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Black pepper is available in various forms: whole peppercorns (dried or pickled), coarsely ground pepper, and finely ground pepper. Black and white pepper can be bought either as whole dried peppercorns or ground. Green and red peppercorns are best preserved in salty or sour brine. Green peppercorns are also available dried, while dried red peppercorns are very rare. Be careful: red peppercorns are not to be confused with pink peppercorns! See further below under the subsection “Danger of confusion.”
Pepper is available in most majors supermarket chains such as Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Extra Foods, Metro, and Freshmart (Canada); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl (Great Britain); and Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, and Harris Farm (Australia). If you are looking for a particular variety of pepper or organic peppercorns, try organic supermarkets and health food stores, or online.
According to Wikipedia, wild pepper grows as a climbing plant (liana) in the Western Ghats (a mountain range in Western India).11 Until the nineteenth century, these forests were rich in wild and expansive pepper vines. However, the amount of wild pepper has declined significantly over the years as the result of deforestation. Interest in wild plants is growing, as they are likely to be more disease resistant than cultivated plants. However, attempts to graft cultivated pepper onto wild pepper have so far failed.12
Pepper should ideally be stored in a cool, dry place that is protected from light. Peppercorns can be kept for two to three years when stored in an airtight container. The shelf life of ground pepper is shorter: approximately 4 to 6 months. If you store your spices above or directly next to the stove, heat and moisture can affect the spices’ flavor.15
Black pepper essential oil principally contains monoterpenes such as pinenes, 3-carenes, terpinenes, terpinolene, and limonene, as well as sesquiterpenes and oxidized terpenes such as terpinen-4-ol. Black and green pepper contain up to 4.8 % essential oil (pepper oil), while white pepper contains a little less (about 2.5 %). Pepper oil is most concentrated in the pepper’s mesocarp, where the resins of pepper are also found. The mesocarp is the middle layer (epidermis) of the three layers (pericarp) around the seed.2 Black pepper also contains 50 % starch, 5 to 6 % fatty oil and flavonoids (keampferol, rhamnetin, quercetin). According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), pepper does not contain significant amounts of any vitamins, with the exception of vitamin K.33 Detailed information on pepper’s nutritional value can be found in the nutrition tables below this article.
The alkaloid piperine is responsible for pepper’s pungency (with quantities of 5 to 8 or 9 %). The highest concentration of piperine can be found in the endocarp. This is the white inner layer of the three layers around the seed.2 Pepper also contains piperine derivatives such as piperettine, piperyline, piperanine, chavicine (an isomeric compound of piperine), and other alkamides (acid amide alkaloids), which vary in composition depending on the type of pepper.16
What aspects of your health is black pepper good for? Pepper is considered to promote appetite and digestion because it stimulates the secretion of saliva and gastric juice, and encourages the release of digestive enzymes when eaten. Piperine stimulates the taste buds and causes heat pulses. Research also suggests that piperine may increase the bioavailability of other substances (e.g., turmeric17 and ibuprofen).16,18 For this reason, pepper extract is becoming an increasingly popular dietary supplement in bodybuilding and weight training. Pepper has health-promoting properties. However, calling pepper a “superfood” would be exaggerated.
Like chili peppers, pepper can cause heartburn when consumed in large quantities.
In antiquity and the Middle Ages, pepper had several uses as a medicinal plant, including for treating fever, colds, digestive problems, and chest pain. In the eighteenth century in Europe, pepper was considered an almost universal remedy.19 Today, pepper is hardly used as a medicinal plant in Europe — except in tonics.20 While research on pepper hypothesizes that pepper has antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, gastroprotective, and antidepressant effects, meaningful results from clinical studies are lacking.21, 22
In traditional medicine, pepper is considered a remedy for fever, stomach problems, and sore throats.23 In India, black pepper is used to treat menstrual cramps; ear, nose, and throat problems (in humans); and gastrointestinal disorders in farm animals.21
The genus Piper contains many species and has a pantropical distribution. All pepper species need a warm climate, thrive in humid, humus-rich soil and do not tolerate frost.
Black pepper (Piper Nigrum) is believed to originate in the foothills of the Himalayas, particularly in Assam and Burma. The first attempts to domesticate pepper probably occurred on the Malabar Coast in Southern India.24 Toward the end of the twentieth century, Thailand, China, and Sri Lanka also began to establish new plantations. For a long time, the most important areas of peppercorn cultivation were in India and Indonesia. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, Vietnam has risen to become the largest exporter of pepper. In the Americas, only Brazil could be considered a major pepper exporter.
The pepper trade distinguishes varieties of pepper according to their region and origin. Malabar and Tellicherry pepper come from India — Sarawak pepper (Malaysia) and Lampong pepper (Sumatra/Indonesia) from Southeast Asia. If the pepper comes from newer cultivation areas, it is usually named after a main trading location (Bangkok, Saigon). Muntok is the name of white pepper from areas of Indonesia southeast of Sumatra, while Sarawak Cream Label is a particularly light white pepper from Sarawak. Brazilian pepper (black, white, and green) is called Belém, named after its port of export.1
Sowing, growing, and taking care of a pepper plant (Piper nigrum) is not so easy. You can find suitable seeds at garden shops or on the Internet. Unfortunately, available commercially-dried peppercorns are not suitable for growing as they are pretreated and partly fermented (black pepper). This means that they are no longer capable of sprouting. Even seeds that are explicitly sold to be grown as pepper plants germinate unreliably and need a tropical climate (greenhouse) and a climbing aid.13,14
The color of peppercorns depends on the point at which they are harvested and how they are treated:
Pink peppercorns (also known as Brazilian pepper) do not belong to the genus Piper, but rather comes from either the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius) or from the Peruvian pepper tree (Schinus molle) In pepper mixes containing multiple types of peppercorns, pink pepper is often added alongside white, black, and green peppercorns.25
Japanese or Korean pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum) belongs to the family Rutaceae and is related to citrus plants. These seeds are not actually hot, but they do cause a feeling of numbness on the lips and tongue. This type of pepper is usually combined with hot paprika in Asian cuisine.26
Grains of paradise, or guinea pepper (Aframomum melegueta), are capsule fruits in the ginger family. In the Middle Ages, grains of paradise were a popular substitute for pepper.27
Allspice, also called Jamaica pepper and myrtle pepper (Pimenta dioica or Pimenta officinalis), belongs to the Myrtaceae (myrtle) family. Allspice contains the same essential oil as cloves, but is noticeably spicier.28
Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum) is ground chili or spice powder made from cayenne-like varieties of pepper.29
Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus), also called vitex and monk’s pepper, is a plant species of the genus Vitex in the mint family (Lamiaceae). In the Middle Ages, it was used to season food and to suppress sexual desire. Today, it is used to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS).30
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is part of the family Piperaceae. There are five genera of pepper plants or about 3600 species. The pepper genus (Piper) consists of 1000 to 2000 different species such as betel (Piper betle), cubeb (Piper cubeba), long pepper (piper longum), and black pepper (Piper nigrum).
Lemon pepper seasoning is a spice mix made from ground black peppercorns and either granulated lemon zest or dried lemon juice. However, lemon pepper seasoning that is sold commercially usually contains additional ingredients such as salt and garlic. It should therefore be regarded as seasoned salt rather than a pepper mix. Lemon pepper seasoning should not be confused with Indonesian lemon pepper, which is a type of Szechuan pepper.1,31
Today, black pepper is the most used and traded spice in the world. In 2012, black and white pepper trade accounted for about 2 billion dollars, approximately a quarter of the global trade value of spices. Nonetheless, the commercial value of peppercorns is much lower than in ancient times and during the Middle Ages. Alexander the Great’s warriors are said to have brought pepper to Europe around 400 BC. Before ships were used to transport goods, pepper was transported from southwest India to Europe by land. It was transported by caravan and by sea through the red sea to Rome. The Romans paid for the pepper in gold.32
Pepper was a luxury article, but was also sought after as it helped food to stay fresh for longer. Rich pepper merchants were given the nickname pepper sacks and Venice improved its wealth significantly through its monopoly on the spice trade. The idea of finding suitable transport routes for precious spices was even behind Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus’ expeditions. After the Americas were discovered, pepper lost its importance as a trading commodity because chili peppers (genus Capsicum) replaced it as the most popular hot spice.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people became increasingly critical of pepper and other expensive, foreign spices, viewing the irritant effect of pepper as harmful to one’s health. The high price of these spices meant that there were many counterfeit spices in circulation. Over the course of the twentieth 20th century, the popularity of pepper grew once again.19
The word “pepper” derives from the Sanskrit word for long pepper (pippali). The Greek and Latin names for pepper arose from this Sanskrit word, which at first referred to long pepper and then increasingly to black pepper once it gained commercial importance.1
Black pepper is also referred to as common pepper and black peppercorns.