Rightly called the king of spices, “pepper” is one of the oldest and most popular spices in the world. Discovered 4000 years ago; it is indigenous to the Malabar Coast in India. It was the search for pepper that drew early Western sailors eastwards. Called “black gold,” it was one of the very first items of commerce between India and Europe. It became so valuable that ancient communities used it as a currency to buy and sell goods! Taxes and rents were paid in pepper corns and the word “pepper corn rent” was coined. The name pepper comes from the Sanskrit word ‘pippali’ meaning berry.
Black, white and green peppercorns all come from the same plant, Piper nigrum. The green unripe berries are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. The berries are then dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dried, the spice is called black peppercorn. Green pepper is made by harvesting the peppercorns while they are still green and drying them. White pepper is made from the inner portion of the mature fruit.
The chemical, piperine is an active component in both black and white pepper and has numerous physiological and drug-like actions. Black Pepper contains iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, chromium, vitamins A and C, and other nutrients.
Black pepper improves digestion and stimulates appetite. It stimulates the taste buds in such a way that an alert is sent to the stomach to increase hydrochloric acid secretion, thereby improving digestion. Consuming a mixture of one-half teaspoon of black pepper and one tablespoon of jaggery powder on a regular basis is an excellent remedy for poor appetite.
It has been used to treat sluggish digestion, flatulence, bloating, lack of appetite and cramps. Piperine favourably stimulates digestive enzymes of pancreas, improves digestive capacity. It has also been found to be useful in nausea. It is an excellent carminative and thus helps prevent the formation of intestinal gas.
Strong anti-oxidant activity has been found in black pepper extracts. This may render far reaching health benefits including cancer prevention by removing the harmful free radicals, anti-inflammatory effects and immuno-modulatory activity.
Black peppercorn, a common ingredient in your masala dabba, is roasted and ground with other ingredients to make powders like garam masala, rasam powder etc.
Powdered black pepper can be added to soups, salads and stews to enhance the flavour. Sprinkle on this spice to calm a cold, detox your skin, and even help fight cancer.
Black pepper is widely used in South India to prepare the delicious and tangy ‘Milagu Kuzhambu’ and ‘Milagu Rasam’.
A concoction made with black pepper, freshly ground coriander, cumin and palm candy provides relief from cold, cough and soothes the throat.
Black peppercorns heal the inner system for women who have just delivered and thus a diet rich in pepper is served to new mothers.