Black Pepper

Black Pepper
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Black Pepper - Botany And History

Pepper, or, more specifically, peppercorns, are one of the most ancient and most prolifically traded of spices, having been employed for culinary and medicinal use since the dawn of civilisation. While generally considered quite commonplace in these modern times, peppercorns were originally highly prized by the ancients due to its rarity and for its medicinal potency. Nowadays, peppercorns are typically only known or referred to as 'black' peppercorns, but there are actually three distinct types of peppercorns all derived from the drupe of the plant, with its colour only varying through the process of drying which it undergoes. The three distinct types of peppercorns are black, white, and green peppercorns; with the foremost having been boiled in water prior to being dried, the second variant being employed in its 'fresh', hulled (i. e. skinless) state, and the latter simply being sundried.

There is a final variety of pepper which is not very common in Western applications, with the exception of Hispanic and Mexican cuisine - the red or pink peppercorns, which are actually no more than fresh ripe pepper drupes preserved in brine or vinegar and employed as condiments for things like salads or spreads. The intensity of the spice's flavour varies depending on the variant employed for cooking, although in most cases, black peppercorns are employed for heartier, spicy meals, white pepper is employed for vegetablebased dishes, and green peppercorns are employed for seafood-based foodstuffs. Medicinally, peppercorns possess the same properties and potency regardless of the variety used, although there seems to be a general propensity for black pepper in contrast to other variants, stemming from the not-so-erroneous assumption that black pepper is more potent than all other peppercorn varieties. Artisanal varieties of peppercorns (especially those that are specifically reserved for gourmet purposes) are expressly identified by their place of origin which serves as a marker of their quality.

The pepper plant is a moderately-sized flowering vine which is said to be a native of the southern parts of India. The plant is classified as a perennial, and takes on the form of a woody, climbing vine that measures some four metres in height upon maturity. In the wild, pepper plants are commonly found climbing above trees, with ground-based stems readily taking root in soft, moist soil, adding to the support of the plant. The whole of the plant is characterised by its darkgreen alternate, somewhat broad, heart-shaped leaves, and for its hanging fruit clusters - an overhanging mass of tiny jade-green spheres all bunched up together into a caterpillar-like cylindrical shape which hangs suspended upon a spike that grows from the tough branch of the plant. These drupes, when left to their own devices, eventually ripen and become florettes, although cultivated species are usually picked or plucked to be processed one the drupes have taken on their full, rounded form. The plant itself prefers rich, nitrogenous, moist soil, and support-plants which possess thick bark. It is chiefly cultivated in India, although other countries such as Borneo, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam also cultivate and produce various variants of pepper. [1]

Historically, peppercorns were once employed as both a medicinal and culinary spice. Since the time of the Ancient Egyptians, black pepper has been prized as a very costly spice, and often only used with impunity by the Pharaonic families. Black peppercorns were so prized in fact that it was often used in funerary rites as a type of preservative and natural perfume, with a number of royal mummies having been interred with peppercorns (as well as other then-costly spices and herbs) usually stuffed into cavities to help in the preservation process. The spice was at the time only cultivated in the Southern and South-Eastern parts of Asia and in select areas in India. It was largely unavailable anywhere else, and was only procurable by the rest of the Western world through trade. Due to the fact that trading routes were often restricted to land and some minor sailing vessels, the price of peppercorns were often exorbitant, making them a luxury item available only to the very rich. The demand for peppercorns did not decrease, however, as their unique flavour tended to give the foodstuffs of those times a certain, much-coveted 'edge'. The demand for peppercorns of all varieties helped to further fuel the spice trade, which eventually ushered the Age of Discovery. Peppercorns were in fact so pricey that in some parts of the world they were employed as a type of currency, and as bargain-able collateral for trade. Nowadays, with the ease of transportation brought about by modernism, pepper (along with a majority of other spices) has now lost their once costly status, although its preeminence as an integral culinary additive and condiment remains strong. [2]

Black Pepper - Herbal Uses

Peppercorns are the most commonly and widely employed spice in the world, with both Eastern and Western cuisines having employed it as an integral spice, although some types of cuisines have a propensity to choose one variant over another. Peppercorns are typically sold in whole form, and is usually ground, crushed, or otherwise pulverised via a variety of means prior to being employed as a condiment or a culinary spice, although it can also be employed in its whole form, a common practice in Hispanic, Italian, and Continental cuisine.

Peppercorns are themselves very versatile spices, and, depending on the variant employed, is capable of adding a whole range of flavours to various dishes. It is generally accepted by common (more traditional than logical) consensus that some variants of peppercorns are more suited to some types of foodstuffs or cuisine than others. As a general given, black peppercorns are chiefly employed as a spice for heavy, hearty meals, while white and green peppercorns are employed as milder alternatives for less robust foodstuffs. Black pepper is commonly employed in Western cuisine both as a spice and as a condiment, typically in ground form (with some exceptions), while Asiatic cuisine tends to prefer white peppercorns, although some national culinary preferences (such as Filipino cuisine) which are highly influenced by western predilections usually employed black peppercorns, often in its whole, but sometimes in its ground state. As with western preferences, black pepper is typically paired with salt, although unlike in the west, Asiatic applications usually employ this combination chiefly as for cooking than for seasoning already cooked food.

Peppercorns have also been employed as medicines, and in fact, began their prolific usage as such until it was absorbed into the culinary field. In the medicinal field, black peppercorns are usually more widely or generally employed than its other variants, with a preference for its employment in the Ayurvedic branches of alternative medicine, and in some localised branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In Ayurvedic medicine, decoctions of black peppercorns are usually employed as a remedy for indigestion and mild to moderate stomach complaints. Employed by itself or with other spices, it has even been used to remedy colds, nasal congestion, flatulence, colic, diarrhea, and general weakness. [3] Black peppercorns are usually mixed with foodstuffs to help aid in digestion as well as improve the appetite. It has long been thought of as helping to increase the body's innate capacity to absorb and assimilate nutrients, with recent scientific studies having shown that moderate consumption of foodstuffs containing black pepper or peppercorns in general helped to increase the rate of absorption and synthesis of vitamin B-complex, beta-carotene, selenium, iron, and other essential nutrients. Peppercorns themselves contain a good amount of essential minerals such as potassium, calcium, and iron, making decoctions of the corns, or the addition of them to foodstuffs helpful for the remedying of diseases such as anaemia, especially if combined with other iron and potassium-rich foodsources. [4] Because peppercorns possesses powerful antimicrobial properties, it can even help to prevent or delay food spoilage, although the general idea that it was employed chiefly as a preservative during the Dark Ages is at best erroneous.

In India, black peppercorns are often combined with other spices to create masala - a spice mixture which is employed for culinary purposes, or otherwise combined with beverages such as tea or milk and drunk as a comforting beverage and as a medicinal tonic. When combined with tea (to create a beverage referred to as masala chai) it can be drunk as an enervating and energising drink, and is perfect for cold weather, as it effectively warms the body and prevents sluggishness and a weakening of the digestion. [5] Fortified with milk and honey, it is an excellent remedy for cold, and may be drunk as a daily pick-me-up. It is believed by both Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese branches of medicine that peppercorns help to improve blood circulation. This belief is further supplemented by the fact that it has a long history of use as a heart and lung tonic, and is believed to help protect the aortal arteries from the possibility of clogging as brought about by the accumulation of plaque. [6]

Due to its powerful antimicrobial and antiseptic properties, very potent decoctions of peppercorns have even been employed as mouthwash, rinses for wounds, or as a means to medicate bandages. It has long been used as a topical astringent and disinfectant, and, due to its capacity to help improve circulation, has even been used to stimulate hair growth when applied to the scalp as a hair rinse. [7] Employed as a gargle, it not only helps to manage halitosis and relieve toothache, but it may even help to correct gingivitis and prevent the occurrence of dental caries, especially if used in conjunction with antimicrobial herbs and spices, and supplemented by proper oral care. A gargle made from peppercorns may even help alleviate hoarseness of voice and sore throat, which is usually brought about due to inflammation. [8] It's powerful antiinflammatory properties not only help to soothe the raw muscle, but allow it to heal, especially if combined with a cooling or soothing herb such as peppermint or marshmallow root.

When employed in whole form, it may be crushed and sprinkled on minor cuts to act as a styptic and staunch the bleeding. Whole peppercorns have been used in Filipino folkloric medicine as a remedy for cavities, usually by mixing crushed peppercorns with mastic (also known as Arabic or Yemeni gum) or softened frankincense resin and stuffed into the cavity to relieve nagging pain. When ground and made into pills or tablets, it has even been prescribed in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a remedy for cholera and syphilis, usually combined with herbs such as ginseng root and lotus root. [9]

When ground and mixed with coconut oil or shea butter, it may be used as a salve or ointment for the alleviation of pain brought about by arthritis and rheumatism, or otherwise employed as a hair-oil or a topical rub to help improve circulation, especially when combined with spices such as ginger root and cinnamon. The essential oil of peppercorns are even extracted through pressing or through steam distillation, and the ensuing essences mixed with a base oil and employed as a topical analgesic against general aches and pains. [10] It can even be used as a disinfectant and healing balm for minor cuts and bruises.

Black Pepper - Contraindications And Safety

While peppercorns are considered generally safe for regular consumption, the topical application of peppercorns may cause allergies in individuals with very sensitive skin. It is advisable to employ topical applications containing peppercorns solely on adults, as it may be unsafe when employed for children. If redness, itching, or burning sensations are felt upon application, reduce the amount employed or otherwise immediately discontinue usage. Under no circumstances should black pepper be applied into the eyes or the nostrils (in spite of what some traditional systems of healing suggest), and a patch-test prior to topical application should be rigorously followed to ensure that no allergic reactions ensue.

As a general rule of thumb, pregnant women should limit their intake of peppercorns to foodamounts. Employing peppercorns for medicinal purposes at such times is ill-advised due to the possible abortifacient properties of the spice which may cause premature uterine contractions that may result in a a miscarriage. Furthermore, individuals who are under diuretic (both synthetic and alternative) medications should limit their intake of peppercorns of all variants, as it may interact with, and possible interfere with the efficiency of such medications. Individuals who are under medications such as lithium, ketoconazole, phenytoin, and propranolol should also avoid the consumption of peppercorns, or otherwise limit it solely to food-amounts.

Black Pepper - Esoteric Uses

Peppercorns have long been integral to the Western alternative medicinal and culinary world, and so it comes naturally that it too plays a major role in Western esotericism. When employed for magickal purposes, peppercorns are said to be able to dispel evil, ward-off malevolent entities, and protect an individual from harm. It is typically burnt as a pungent incense and employed for de-hexing, although it may be employed as an herb for cursing or attracting negative energy to the intended recipient of a hex. When encased in a medicine pouch and worn as a necklace, it is said to help protect the wearer from all types of physical and psychic harm. In some cultures, an amulet of peppercorns is employed as an amulet against the Evil Eye. When ground and mixed with salt, it can be employed for the creation of protective circles during rituals, and is believed to fend off all forms of evil. Scattered about one's property, it is said that it not only dispels misfortune, but drives away ghosts and malevolent entities that may be out and about.

Black Pepper - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: hu jiao
Japanese: kosho / kuro kosho
Korean: huchu
Sanskrit: kali mirchi / pippali
Hindi: krishna
Greek (ancient / modern): piper
French: grain de poivre / poivre / poivrier
Spanish: pimienta / pimienta negra / pimienta blanca
Italian: pimiento / piper / pepe
Filipino: paminta / pimiento (adapted from Spanish)
Old English: pipor
English: pepper / black pepper / white pepper / peppercorns
Dutch: peper
German: pfeffer
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Piper nigrum

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Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.

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