Salt's silent and spicy partner, is one of the most interesting and important ingredients there are. Here are 10 things you should know about it.
Pepper is the fruit of a type of climbing plant originating in India, and through the years spread to other tropical areas in the Pacific Islands, and South America. When the fruit is ripe and fresh, it is bright red, and when unripe, it is green.
Black pepper is the unripe fruit of the pepper plant, that starts out green, and undergoes a boiling and drying process, until it oxidizes and reaches its familiar black color. White pepper is created by picking the ripe red fruit, and removing its red layer – to reach the white seed that we eat. White pepper is used mainly for seasoning light colored dishes, such as bechamel sauce, and white risottos
Pepper owes its spiciness to a special compound called piperine – that stimulates the taste buds and creates a gentle feeling of spiciness. Pepper has many health benefits, but that is a subject for another article.
The trade of black pepper began more than 3500 years ago: it has been recorded all around the ancient world, from Persia to Greece, and Rome.
Until recently it was considered a rare and expensive substance: the explorer Vasco Da Gama was sent on a journey to India by the king of Portugal, just to bring back high quality black pepper. The Portuguese controlled the pepper trade until they were replaced by the Dutch, and after them, the British.
If we are already discussing the British, English pepper (all-spice) isn’t actually pepper at all, but the fruit of a different plant, from the myrtle family, that grows on the other side of the world, in Jamaica (and therefore it isn’t English either).
Another pepper that isn’t actually pepper, is the pink peppercorn – the dried fruit of a Brazilian plant that has become quite trendy in recent years.
We are used to placing it next to salt, and to use it to season salty dishes, but it can actually add a lot to desserts – it goes great with chocolate (in Italy it is common to serve chocolate ice cream with pepper), and also in fruit desserts.
Spice traders in old America used to dilute ground black pepper with charcoal in order to make more off the pepper they were selling. The tradition of diluting pepper continues today (especially while black pepper prices are rising), so if you see especially cheap black pepper, it is probably suspect.
The first pepper mill was created by the Peugeot brothers in 1842 – of course, today they are known as a vehicle manufacturer, but their first fortune was made by developing a model of pepper mill that could adjust the size of the ground pepper by turning a knob. Even today Peugeot is known as the best manufacturer of pepper mills.