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Black Pepper
Introduction
Known as the 'king of spices', black pepper has remained the most precious and valuable form of spices in the world. It is the 3rd most added ingredient in food among the wide range of spices. India is one of the largest producers of black pepper, after China and Vietnam. Black pepper has played a pivotal role in India's international trade and it is said that the Europeans came to India primarily for this very spice. A wide variety of black pepper is traded at an international level, with India as one of the top five exporters of black pepper, along with Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil and Malaysia.
What is Black Pepper?
Black pepper is defined as a small and unripe fruit of Piper Nigrum, a weak climbing plant, which is dried to be used in the form of spice and seasoning. One of the earliest and the most widely used spices, it smells extremely pungent. In India, its production is largely concentrated in South India and other tropical regions. It is derived from the vine of Piper Nigrum. To get black pepper, the berries from the plant are picked when they are still not fully ripe, fermented and then dried in the sun till the time they dehydrate and turn brownish-black in colour.
 

Etymology of Black Pepper
The term 'pepper' was derived from the Sanskrit word 'pippali'. From this Sanskrit term came the Greek word 'peperi' and the Latin term 'piper'. These two terms primarily referred to black pepper instead of long pepper. In Hindi, it is known by the name of 'kali mirch'.

Constituents of Black Pepper
Black Pepper has a sharp and penetrating aroma and it tastes extremely pungent and spicy. The pungent taste is primarily due to the presence of two alkaloids in the pepper, namely pipperine and piperidine. It is also slightly tangy in taste due to certain specific plant resins that can be found in the seeds of the plant.

The presence of monoterpenes like sabinene, beta-pinene, limonene, terpinene, alpha-pinene, myrcene, delta-3-carene and monoterpene derivatives are largely responsible for the pungent and hot aroma that comes from the black pepper. It also contains 3% essential oil, with about 20% of this essential oil being made up of volatile oil like beta-caryophyllene, humulene, beta-bisabolone and caryophyllene ketone. Apart from these basic ingredients, black pepper also contains about 8% to 14% moisture, 1.55% to 2.60% nitrogen and 28% to 49% starch which is obtained by acid hydrolysis.  
 

History of Black Pepper
Black pepper is one of the first form of spices to have been cultivated since pre-historic times. It has been addressed as a master spice because it has the ability of being stored for years without losing its flavor or aroma. The importance of black pepper can be judged from the fact that in the ancient times, it was used as a form of currency to pay taxes, dowry, rent, etc. In ancient times, black pepper was found in the nostrils of the Ramesses II, the third Egyptian pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty. The black pepper was placed there to mummify his corpse as part of the Egyptian ritual.

In the Middle Ages, it was used as a means to conceal the foul smell of meat. Black pepper is known to be a native to India and has been used since 2000 BCE. Its production was primarily concentrated in the Malabar coast of Kerala in India. After the Middle Ages, black pepper traveled from this Malabar Coast to Europe, North Africa and Middle East. Malaysia and Indonesia have been growing black pepper for the last 2000 years. The importance of black pepper was one of the many important reasons that attracted the Europeans to come to India.

 

Types of Black Pepper
A wide range of black pepper is grown in different parts of India and around the world. Their names are taken from the areas where they are grown and differ in terms of color, shape, chemical characteristics, flavor, etc. Some of well known variety of black pepper are:

  • Tellicherry: It is a high quality gourmet pepper with large and tasty berries. It's very big in size and does not take much of a time to mature. It is known for its strong aroma and pungent smell
  • Malabar: Grown on the coast of Malabar in Kerala, its flavor is the same as that of a Tellicherry black pepper. Its aroma is sweet and fruity and is largely used in desserts and savories
  • Lampong: Originating from Indonesia, it is known to be one of the best black peppers in the world. Its taste is extremely spicy and is equipped with the strongest aroma possible
  • Sarawak: Produced in the north east part of Bornea in Indonesia, it is considered to be one of the best black peppers in the world. It is extremely fresh, with sharp, pungent taste to it
  • Other Varieties: Allepey, Saigon, Penang, Singapore, etc
 

Cultivation and Storage of Black Pepper
Black pepper is obtained from the berries grown on the plant of Piper Nigrum. To get the best range of black pepper, the plant requires to be grown during a long spell of rainy season, at fairly high temperature and with the help of little bit of shade. After the berries start to get red in color, they are plucked and stored in room temperature. To keep them disinfected, the surface of the berries is soaked into boiled water for about ten minutes.

After they turn black-brown in color, they are spread under the sun for about three to four days, so that all the moisture is squeezed out from them. These berries or peppercorns, as they are known otherwise, are then grounded firmly and this is how black pepper is produced. The black pepper must be stored in a cool, dry and dark place so that its flavor can be retained for months.

   
Uses of Black Pepper
Black Pepper, being the most oldest spice in the world, is seen both as a taste enhancer and as a medicine. Its importance can be judged from the following points:

  • Because of its strong flavor and aroma, it is highly used as an added ingredient in food to make it tasty and delectable
  • Owing its strong influence on health, black pepper has been used in many traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha
  • Black pepper acts as an antidepressant and also as an antioxidant that helps in lowering the cholesterol level to a great extent
  • The essential oil present in the black pepper helps in relieving muscular pain, fever, etc. and also helps in increasing blood circulation
  • Black pepper also acts as an effective deterreant to insects. When added with a quarter amount of water, it acts as an effective toxin, capable of killing rodents, ants, potato bugs, etc.
 
Market Scope of Black Pepper
Black pepper accounts for the largest volume of exports in India. Kerala, in the southern region of the country, is the largest producer of black pepper, accounting for 90% of total pepper production. Since the past few years, India's rise has been on full swing in terms of export of black pepper. Also, the country holds the 3rd  position in the production of black pepper in the world. Some of the major Indian markets dealing in black pepper are Kochi  and Sultan Bethary in Kerala, while Delhi and Nagpur have also emerged as key players in this arena in recent times.
 
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