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"The Versatile Spice: Exploring the Many Uses and Benefits of Black Pepper"

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit (the peppercorn), which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. The fruit is a drupe (stonefruit) which is about 5 mm (0.20 in) in diameter (fresh and fully mature), dark red, and contains a stone which encloses a single pepper seed. Peppercorns and the ground pepper derived from them may be described simply as pepper, or more precisely as black pepper (cooked and dried unripe fruit), green pepper (dried unripe fruit), or white pepper. (ripe)

In the incredible story of the spice trade, peppercorns are the most important and historically significant spice of them all. Wars were fought and trade routes established over this tiny fruit from the piper nigrum plant. Peppercorns were once as valuable as gold, and in fact were used as currency at various points throughout history. When the Visigoths captured Rome in 410 A.D. they demanded 3000 pounds of peppercorns as ransom! Obviously peppercorns are not nearly as valuable today as they once were, but they are just as important. Try to imagine cooking and eating without pepper. 

Black, green, and white peppercorns are all from the piper nigrum plant. The different colours and flavours of these three peppercorns are caused by the maturity of the peppercorns when they are picked and the way they are processed.

As well as offering different colours of peppercorns, we offer several different types of whole black peppercorns. Our standard black peppercorns, the type you can find on almost every table in the country, come variously from India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Tellicherry black peppercorns, also from India, are our highest grade of peppercorn. They are large and fragrant, with a delicate spiciness and distinctive lemony brightness. Indonesian Lampong black peppercorns are smaller and have a unique fruity flavour with intense heat.

Pink peppercorns are not from the same pepper vine that the others are. They are the fruit of the Brazilian pepper tree, so are not actually peppercorns at all. However, they are used in a similar way and are common in pepper blends, so we have included them here. Pink peppercorns are not to be confused with true red peppercorns, which are the fully ripe fruit of the piper nigrum plant. These peppercorns are rare and fragile, and are not usually seen outside of pepper growing regions.

Szechuan peppercorns are used in Asian cooking and are also not true peppercorns. They are from a Chinese variety of the prickly Ash tree, and have a lemony and slightly numbing spicy flavour.

Peppercorns lose their aroma and flavour VERY quickly when ground, so you should always buy whole and grind fresh when needed. Luckily, it’s become pretty commonplace for people to use a pepper mill at home. Most mills can be adjusted so you can get just the fineness of grind you prefer. You can also crack peppercorns in a mortar and press into meats before roasting or grilling.

Black pepper contains antioxidants and may support your overall health. Benefits can include reducing inflammation and supporting blood sugar control and brain health, among others.

Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spices worldwide.

It’s made by grinding peppercorns, which are dried berries from the vine Piper nigrum.

It has a sharp and mildly spicy flavor that goes well with many dishes.

But black pepper is more than just a kitchen staple. It has been deemed the “king of spices” and used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years due to its high concentration of potent, beneficial plant compounds

  • Black pepper is rich in a potent antioxidant called piperine, which may help prevent free radical damage to your cells.

  • Black pepper contains an active compound that has been shown to decrease inflammation in animals. Still, it’s unclear whether it has the same effects in humans.

  • Black pepper extract has improved symptoms of degenerative brain diseases in animal studies, but studies in humans are needed to verify these results.

  • Black pepper extract may improve blood sugar control, but more research is needed.

  • Black pepper has demonstrated cholesterol-lowering effects in rodent studies and is believed to boost the absorption of potential cholesterol-lowering supplements.

  • Black pepper contains an active compound that has slowed the replication of cancer cells and induced cancer cell death in test-tube studies. However, these effects have not been studied in people.

Tasting Notes

Black pepper contains between 2-4% essential oils and the compound "piperine" is responsible for its characteristic spicy heat.  Differences in age, terroir, and maturity can lead to variations in pepper flavor. Tellicherry pepper (from India) is widely considered to be the highest quality and most flavorful variety of black pepper.  

Culinary Uses

Dried, ground black pepper is one of the most common spices in Western cuisine. Usually referred to simply as “pepper”, it can be found on nearly every dinner table in many parts of the world, often alongside table salt.  Because pepper has a relatively low moisture content, it can be stored for many years without losing its flavor and aroma (especially when in its whole peppercorn form).  Black Pepper adds flavor to almost every food of every nation in the world. It is used in rubs, spice blends, salad dressings, and peppercorn blends. Pepper features prominently in several Arabic spice mixtures such as zhoug, baharat, and berebere. In Indian cooking, it is a component of garam masala and in France it is a main constituent of quatre épices (along with cloves, nutmeg, and dried ginger). In the United States, a combination of dried lemon and black pepper called “lemon pepper” is a popular seasoning for fish.  

Cooking Tips

Black pepper is available whole, cracked, and ground but gourmet cooks prefer freshly ground peppercorns. Many savory dishes can be finished with freshly ground black pepper from a pepper mill. A coarse grind is desirable for dishes such as pepper-crusted steak. Larger amounts of peppercorns can be ground using a spice mill.  The flavor of black pepper mellows with cooking. That is one reason why the pepper shaker on the table is so important.  A dash of ground pepper, applied as each diner prefers, will perk up any cooked meal. Black pepper is a staple in most American kitchens, but white pepper is more popular in French, Chinese, Vietamese, and Swedish cooking. Use care when substituting one for the other as the American palette is not always used to the stronger ‘musty’ type flavor typical of white pepper.  Did you know that pastry chefs in fine dining restaurants include black pepper in all kinds of desserts. It’s an especially delicious surprise in chocolate sweets, from fudge brownies, chocolate layer cake to chocolate truffles.

Cheers, and happy hump day! Looking to expand on your culinary skills? Consider joining one of our online culinary or pastry programs today!

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