pepper is a seasoning produced from the
fermented, dried, unripe red berries, called peppercorn, of the
plant Piper nigrum.
The same peppercorn, when unripe green, can be dried, or preserved in brine
or vinegar, to make
green peppercorn; or when ripe, dried and dehusked to make white peppercorn, for
is one of the most common spices in European cuisine and its descendants, having
been known and prized since antiquity for its flavor and its use as a preservative. The spiciness
of black pepper is due to the chemicalpiperine. Ground black peppercorn,
usually referred to simply as "pepper", may be found on nearly every dinner table
in some parts of the world, accompanied by its constant companion salt.
pepper differs only in being prepared from the ripe fruits. These, after collection,
are kept in the house three days and then bruised and washed in a basket with
the hand until the stalks and pulpy matter are removed, after which the seeds
are dried. It is, however, sometimes prepared from the dried black pepper by removing
the dark outer layer. It is less pungent than the black but possesses a finer
is commonly believed that, during the Middle Ages, pepper was used
to conceal the taste of partially rotten meat. There is, however, no evidence
to support this claim. Pepper was traded by Arabs during the Middle Ages in
the profitable Indian Ocean spice trade.
It was so valuable that it was often used as collateral or even currency.
Its exorbitant price during the middle ages was one of the inducements which led
the Portuguese to seek a sea-route to India. In the late 15th century, Portugal took
over the Indian Ocean trade, including pepper, due to the Treaty of Tordesillas
with Spain and a separate treaty with
the sultan of Ternate. The trade later became
dominated by the Dutch in the 17th century.
Today, pepper accounts for one fourth of the world's spice trade.
In southwestern India, where the pepper plant grows
wild, it is found in rich, moist, leafy soil, in narrow valleys, propagating itself
by running along the ground and giving off roots into the soil. The native method of cultivation
is to tie up the end of the vines to the neighboring trees at distances of at
least 6 feet, especially to those having a rough bark, in order that the roots
may easily attach themselves to the surface. The underwood is then cleared away,
leaving only sufficient trees to provide shade and permit free ventilation. The
roots are covered in leaves and manure, and the shoots are trimmed
twice a year.
places where pepper does not grow wild, ground is selected which permits of free
drainage, but which is not too dry nor liable to flooding, and cuttings are planted
at about a foot from the trees either in the rainy season in June or in the dry
season in February. Sometimes several cuttings about 18 inches long are placed in a basket
and buried at the root of the tree, the cuttings being made to slope towards the
trunk. In October or November the young plants are covered with a mixture of leaves
and cow dung. On dry soils the young plants require watering every other day during
the dry season for the first three years. The plants bear fruit in the fourth
or fifth year, and if raised from cuttings are fruitful for seven years. The pepper
from plants raised from cuttings is said to be superior in quantity and quality,
so this method is most frequently adopted.
Sumatra the ground
is cleared, ploughed, and sown with rice. Cuttings of the vine are planted
in September, 5 feet apart each way, together with a sapling of quick growth and
rough bark. The plants are now left for twelve or eighteen months and then entirely
buried, except a small piece of bent stem, whence new shoots arise, three or four
of which are allowed to climb the tree near which they are planted. These shoots
generally yield flowers and fruits the next year. Two crops are collected every
year, the principal one being in December and January and the other in July and
August, the latter yielding pepper of inferior quality and in less quantity.
or three varieties of the pepper plant are cultivated; the one yielding the best
kinds has broadly ovate leaves, five to seven in number, nerved and stalked. The
flower-spikes are opposite the leaves, stalked and from 3 to 6 inches long; the
fruits are sessile and fleshy. A single stem will bear from twenty to thirty of
these spikes. The harvest begins as soon as one or two berries at the base of
the spikes begin to turn red, and before the fruit is mature, but when full grown
and still hard; if allowed to ripen, the berries lose pungency, and ultimately
fall off and are lost. The spikes are collected in bags or baskets and dried in
the sun. When dry the pepper is put into bags containing from 64 to 128 pounds.