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Pepper

There is a German saying – literally translated “Go to where the pepper grows” – that has been used since the Middle Ages when people wanted someone they disliked to hit the road. They wanted the annoying person to disappear in an inconceivably distant country from which there was no return. Originally the piper nigrum was only available at the Malabar Coast in Southern India. Today, however, it is cultivated in numerous tropical countries.

History

Due to its high-durability, the long-lasting and its spicy flavor, which was only rarely to be found in other ingredients, pepper became a valuable commodity which temporarily was traded ounce by ounce with gold.

Many of the bloody crusades were only ostensibly undertaken to Christianize the Orient and fight against the Islam, the real goal, however, was much more to gain control of the spice trade. Until the 15th century the Arabs held a monopoly on the import of spices from Asia and the export to Europe. And it was also one of the reasons why Marco Polo wanted to establish a European caravan route to Asia and Christopher Columbus and other sailors were searching for a sea route to India.

Cultivation

As pepper is a climber it needs support of other plants or a frame to climb and flourish. It may creep up to 10 meters but is usually kept at 3 meters height for cultivation. The roughly 10 cm long panicles carry 20 to 150 white little flowers. After pollination it takes 6 to 7 months until the pepper berries ripen, that means that harvesting can take place twice a year. According to the berries further processing green, black, white or red pepper is obtained. Green pepper is made from unripe berries which are put in salted water immediately after harvesting and then are dried at high temperatures or freeze-dried to preserve their fresh green color. Through a prolonged drying process black pepper is obtained from the unripe berries. To get white pepper the ripe berries are soaked in water so that the skin detaches from rotting. Afterwards they are peeled mechanically and dried. Red pepper is made of completely mature unpeeled berries which are soaked in brine. It is very rare and in dried form even more difficult to find.

Healing effect

In herbal medicine black pepper is used against stomach and digestion problems or flatulence and it may help in case of a fish or meat poisoning by stimulating the gastric mucosa. A compress with a paste of pepper, caraway, breadcrumbs and vinegar put on forehead and temples helps to treat headaches. 

You can find pictures on the pepper processing in the gallery.