Pepper is a spice obtained from the berries of different pepper species, plants of the family of piperaceae.

It is the black pepper fruit (Piper nigrum) that gives green, white, red or black pepper.

Its name comes from the Sanskrit pippali, become in Greek; peperi, then in Latin piper. Pepper owes its pungent flavour to amides of piperine.

The pepper crop is native to the west coast of India (Malabar Coast), in the state of Kerala, and has spread to other countries in Southeast Asia, Madagascar and Brazil.

Black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramses II, placed there as part of the mummification rituals shortly after his death in 1213 BCE. Little else is known about the use of pepper in ancient Egypt and how it reached the Nile from South Asia.

Its use in Greece dates from the times of Alexander the Great.

The ancient history of the black pepper tree is often linked, and confused, with that of the long pepper tree (piper longum). In the middle ages, spices like pepper were rare.

The conquest of Alexandria in 642 by the Arabs marked the beginning of this trade. That's why the rarest spices, like pepper, were used as bargaining chips.

The green is obtained by the wet preservation of immature berries. The white is ripe berries free of their pericarp. The black is obtained from berries that have reached near maturity, fermented and then dried. The red is the bay of pepper arrived at full maturity.

The species Piper longum produces long pepper, widely used in antiquity and the middle ages, but almost forgotten nowadays. The species Piper cubeba produces cubèbe pepper, a round grain with a small tail, hence its name "pepper tail". Piper borbonense produces Voatsiperifery pepper, a wild pepper with an intense and incisive taste.

© 2018 Wessel Woortman

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