Where Do Black Peppercorns Come From?
The black pepper we season our food with comes from the dried berries of the pepper vine, which grows in such hot countries as India and in the islands of the East Indies. Some of the best peppercorns in the world come from the Malabar Coast in the Indian state of Kerala.
The pepper vine bears clusters of small berries about the size of peas. The berries are picked just before they ripen. This is the period when they have the most peppery flavor. After they are gathered, the berries are spread out on mats in the sun. As they dry, they shrivel and harden into peppercorns. The peppercorns are ground to make the black pepper we sprinkle on our food.
The colors of the various peppercorns you see in the store are a result of either when the tiny fruits are harvested, or else the type of processing they undergo after picking.
Black pepper, and black peppercorns start as green peppercorns, which are the unripe fruit of the piper nigrum plant. The fruits grow in long, thin bunches on the vine, clustered somewhat like grapes. These bright green fruits are first cooked and then sun-dried. During the drying process, certain enzymes turn the skin a dark brown, almost black, as well as cause the outer skin of the fruit to contract and wrinkle.
Green peppercorns are the same species, and are harvested at the same degree of ripeness. Though instead of cooking, the unripe drupes are treated with various substances or preservatives, including sulphur dioxide, to retard the enzymes that normally darken the skins. Sometimes green peppercorns are brined like pickles. As a result, green peppercorns are slightly more perishable than black.
Once considered a luxury item, only available to the wealthy, peppercorns and the resultant ground pepper, particularly black pepper, is now one of the most common culinary spices. Added, along with salt, to almost every dish we eat.
In addition to the zesty flavor pepper adds to our dishes, did you know there are profound health benefits to consuming black pepper? It’s an anti-oxidant, and antibacterial.
But one of the most important health benefits to humans is that pepper stimulates the release of stomach acid, improving the digestion of proteins. Related to this is pepper’s ability to act as a carminative, which is a fancy way of saying it helps prevent the formation of intestinal gas.