Incredibly popular black pepper often referred as “king of spice” is a popular spice known to the world since ancient times. The peppercorn plant is native to tropical evergreen rain forest of South Indian state, Kerala, from where it spread to rest of the world. The Pepper fruit, also known as peppercorn, is actually a berry obtained from this plant.
Botanically, peppercorn belongs to the family of piperaceae of the genus of piper; and known scientifically as Piper nigrum. This perennial vine and climber requires supporting tree or pole to grow in height; thus has similar growth characteristics that of beetle leaf plant. It begins to bear small round berries after about three to four years of implantation. Technically, the pepper fruit is a drupe, measuring about 5 mm in diameter, containing single large seed at its center.
Several color peppercorns found in the markets are nothing but the same fruit, which picked up from the plant at different stages of maturity and subject to different methods of processing. Generally, the peppercorns are harvested when they are half-matured and just about to turn red. They are then left to dry under the sun light that causes them to shrivel and turns black. Alternatively, green pepper corns are picked while the berries still unripe and green in color. The white peppercorns are derived when fully ripe berries soaked in brine to remove their dark outer coat, leaving the inner white color pepper seed.
Black peppers have strong spicy taste that comes to them from volatile oils such as piperine. In ground peppers, these volatile oils may evaporate if kept open to the air for longer periods.
Cubeb or tailed pepper berries are dried unripe fruits of piper cubeba vine that is grown mainly Indonesian rain forest. They appear similar to black peppercorns but have a characteristic stalk which is often interpreted as a “tail”. Cubeb berries have distinctive flavor rich in monoterpene essential oil, cubebene.
Health benefits of black pepper
- Peppercorns contain impressive list of plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties. Peppers have been in use since ancient times for its anti-inflammatory, carminative, anti-flatulent properties.
- Peppercorns are composed of many health benefiting essential oils such as piperine, an amine alkaloid, which gives strong spicy pungent character to the pepper. It also contains numerous monoterpenes hydrocarbons such as sabinene, pinene, terpenene, limonene, mercene etc that gives aromatic property to the pepper.
- The above-mentioned active principles in the pepper may increase the motility of the gastro-intestinal tract as well as increase the digestion power by increasing gastro-intestinal enzyme secretions. It has also been found that piperine can increase absorption of selenium, B-complex vitamins, beta-carotene, as well as other nutrients in the food.
- Black peppercorns contain good amount of minerals like potassium, calcium, zinc, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for cellular respiration and blood cell production.
- They are also excellent source of many vital B-complex groups of vitamins such as Pyridoxine, riboflavin, thiamin and niacin.
- Peppercorns are rich source of many anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-C and vitamin-A. They also rich in flavonoid polyphenolic anti-oxidants like carotenes, cryptoxanthin, zea-xanthin and lycopene. These compounds help body remove harmful free radicals and help protect from cancers and diseases.
Selection and storage
Black Peppers are available year around. In the store, buy whole peppercorns instead of pepper powder since, oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy powders. The peppercorns should be wholesome, heavy, round and compact.
Peppercorns can be stored at room temperature for many years and can be milled using hand mill as and when required. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a month or so. Powdered pepper should be stored in the refrigerator in airtight containers.
- Peppers have been used therapeutically in dentistry as an antiseptic for tooth-decay and gum swellings.
- Peppercorns are also being used in traditional medicines in treating flatulence and indigestion in traditional medicine, but there is little or no data to support these claims in modern medicine.
Black pepper is one of the most versatile spices used in virtually in all savory cooking. In order to keep the fragrance and flavor intact, it is generally ground just before preparing dishes and added at the last minutes in the recipes (because prolonged cooking results in evaporation of essential oils).
Here are some preparation tips:
- Black peppercorn along with other spices and seasonings, used to marinate chicken, fish, and meat.
- It is used liberally in Indian vegetarian and chicken curries. In the Middle-East, this pepper is used in meat and rice dishes.
- They can be used in the preparation of soups, barbecue sauces, pickling and as main ingredient in variety of curry powders.
- Although preferred in savory foods, this spice is also used in sweet preparations like fruitcakes, breads, pies to add spicy note.
- In India and Pakistan, black peppercorn powder is mixed with salt, and the mixture is a common item on serving table in restaurants. The mixture is used as sprinkle over vegetable/fruit salads, chats, lemonades, in soups etc. Lassi (churned yoghurt) is often flavored with this spice-salt mixture in Punjab province.
- Cubeb peppers mainly feature in Indonesian curries.
Consumption of dishes prepared with excessive amounts of black pepper can cause gastrointestinal irritation, and bleeding from the ulcer sites. Therefore, recipes prepared with pepper should be avoided in individuals with stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis conditions.
Source : http://www.nutrition-and-you.com