Pepper

Share on

Pepper is, by far, the most widely known and commercialised spice in Western countries and the king of the kitchen throughout the world. It is native to the monsoon forests of the Malabar coast, in south-western India, but it is extensively cultivated also in tropical countries. There are many kinds of pepper, but they are actually all obtained from the same plant, harvested at different stages of ripening. Its fruits reached Europe by land in Greek and Roman times, and the plant is now widespread to all temperate, humid climates.

Peppercorns are the unripe fruits of Piper Nigrum, a flowering vine belonging to the Piparaceae family which reaches maturity in 7-8 years and then yields fruit for 15-20 years. The same fruit undergoes different processes to produce different types of spices.More specifically:- Black pepper, the most commonly used variety, is harvested when the fruits are still unripe, and dried in the sun until it turns black.- White pepper is obtained from the fully ripe fruits, which are soaked in water for about a week and then rubbed to remove the outer layer.- Green pepper is also made from the unripe fruits. The berries are then preserved in brine or dried.- Red peppercorns from Piper nigrum is distinct from the more-common dried "pink peppercorns", and is made from the ripe fruit of the plant, harvested as soon as they turn red and then dried.

For centuries pepper was used in the East and in the West as a form of commodity money. The Chinese nicknamed it the "westerners' fagara" and saw it as an exotic alternative to their spice. In the Middle Ages pepper was used instead of money to pay rents, taxes and as a dowry. This precious spice was so expensive that in the kitchen, whenever possible, it was replaced with other herbs having a similar spicy taste. The strong demand for pepper was one of the reasons encouraging a few Portuguese explorers, including Vasco da Gama, to pioneer the Spice Route from Europe to the Indian Ocean in the period between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Pepper is used to enhance the flavour of many recipes. Because it is neither sweet nor savoury, but simply spicy, pepper can be added to sweet and savoury recipes. Whole peppercorns can be added to stocks or cooking liquids. Pepper is very versatile and can be added to many recipes: black pepper is ideal for meat, fish, pasta and risotto; green pepper, with is fresh and aromatic taste, enhances the flavour of meat and sauces; white pepper is widely used in white sauces like bechamel. Finally, pepper, just like salt, helps preserve food for longer.

Come tutte le spezie orientali, il pepe è stato nella storia sia un condimento che una medicina. Fra i primi ad usarlo ci furono gli Egizi, che loimpiegavano nei procedimenti di imbalsamazione delle mummie e nella cura di alcune malattie. Anche gli antichi Greci, già dal IV secolo a.C., lousavano in medicina soprattutto come antidoto per i veleni, ma anche per controllare disturbi digestivi e per curare le influenze. I Romani usavanoil pepe nero come ingrediente di numerose composizioni medicinali, prima fra tutte quella della “Teriaca”, un noto rimedio contro i veleni che siè diffuso in brevissimo tempo. Il pepe nero è citato nella medicina Ayurveda, Siddha e Unani in quanto, insieme a zafferano e pepe lungo, è unodegli ingredienti del “Trikatu”, miscela di spezie utilizzata per favorire la digestione e stimolare il metabolismo. Il pepe sembra possedere inoltreproprietà antisettiche e persino afrodisiache. L’utilizzo del pepe è molto diffuso anche per uso esterno, nei centri benessere infatti è usato neitrattamenti eudermici e per massaggi muscolari e rilassanti, mentre un bagno con essenza di pepe stimola la sudorazione e contribuisce alladepurazione dell’organismo. Anche in caso di contusioni il pepe può risultare un buon rimedio naturale per togliere il gonfiore e diminuire il dolorese somministrato con impacchi freddi.