By Cat Glennon
Seriously? A fruit? Yes!
Peppercorns, all the colors, are all dried berries from the piper nigrum plant. It’s a tropical climbing vine that can grow up to 15 feet tall. This is a Costa Rican man in his pepper farm.
Pepper has been around as a spice for about 4000 years. Like it’s best friend salt, pepper has been used as a currency. It’s indigenous to India and throughout the Middles ages almost all of the pepper found in Europe was imported from the Malabar region of India. It was used as a medicine to treat illnesses like constipation, diarrhea, earache, gangrene, heart disease, hernia, hoarseness, indigestion, insect bites, insomnia, joint pain, liver problems, lung disease, oral abscesses, sunburn, eye diseases, tooth decay, and toothaches. But not sneezing.
Peppercorn plants are tropical plants and take up to four years to begin producing any fruit. They’re difficult to grow from seeds and if you were interested in growing your own pepper, which would be awesome, the general consensus would be to get a small plant or rooted cutting.
The berries ripen from green to red and different color peppercorns are made from picking and treating the berries at different stages in their ripening. Black pepper is made from green unripe berries that have been blanched and then dried either in the sun or mechanically. The fruit of the berry shrinks and browns to the wrinkly black things we know and love as black peppercorns.
White peppercorns are made from the fully ripened red berries. They’re soaked in water and after about a week the fruit removes itself fro the seed. The seeds are then dried and there you have white peppercorns.
Green and red peppercorns are dried after undergoing a color retaining treatment like freeze-drying or sulfur dioxide. You can also get pickled peppercorns, which are exactly what they sound like, either red or green peppercorns that have been pickled. In Eastern cuisines, like Thai, whole raw peppercorns are occasionally used in cooking.
Pepper easily loses its flavor when it’s exposed to light and air, which is why pre-ground pepper comes in a tin instead of a jar. There is evidence that pepper mills have been in use in Europe since the 14th century, but most often a mortar and pestle were used to grind pepper.
So that’s all I have to say about pepper. You love it, I love it and now we have a lot to say about it just in case it ever comes up in conversation.
If you have any topics that you would like me to delve into, like rats or bananas or Peter Stuyvesant let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org